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Navy and UC San Diego Health Team Preserves Student's Professional Dream by Performing First Ever Immediate Jaw Reconstruction with 3D Printed Teeth

With part of his leg bone serving as his new jaw, Felix Ung walked across commencement stage two weeks after surgery 

San Diego, CA - Sept. 29, 2023 – Felix Ung entered UC San Diego as an undergrad four years ago with a dream of attending law school after completing his degree in Cognitive Science. Through hard work and determination, Ung was accepted to New York University School of Law during his senior year at UC San Diego.

Around this time, however, Ung got disturbing news that would have him questioning his future as an attorney. He had been diagnosed with a cyst that had by then destroyed a large portion of his lower jaw. After numerous referrals and appointments, it was determined Ung needed to have two-thirds of his lower jaw removed, including nearly all his lower teeth a procedure that would require rare expertise and a ground-breaking dental implant restoration using 3D-printed teeth.

With his professional dream uncertain, Ung searched for and found a collaborative team of specialized plastic and dental surgeons with UC San Diego Health and Naval Medical Center San Diego, led by U.S. Navy Commander Dan Hammer, DDS (Navy Maxillofacial Surgeon) and Captain Eamon O'Reilly (Navy Plastic Surgeon), as well as Christopher Reid, MD, of the UC San Diego Health Division of Plastic Surgery.

In a series of complex procedures, sometimes referred to as a “jaw-in-a-day,” the team partnered with  the Department of Otolaryngology at UC San Diego School of Medicine to both remove a large portion of Ung’s jaw and transplant during the same surgery a portion of Ung’s leg bone to serve as his new jaw, complete with dental implants and 3D printed teeth.

Hammer notes that, with no need for additional surgeries, the procedure reduces the surgical time a patient is under anesthesia while also immediately restoring the patient's form and function.

“In a moment of despair for Felix, there was a new sense of hope that his diagnosis would not forever derail his dream of a career as an attorney, ” said Dr. Hammer.

By utilizing advanced digital dental technologies including intra-oral scanning, Computer Aided Design software and 3-D printing, Ung was immediately restored and discharged home in less than a week.

“Most impressive was Ung walking across the stage at Commencement two weeks after surgery with his new jaw and accompanying smile,” said Dr. Hammer.

This multifaceted procedure, the first of its kind at UC San Diego Health, has enabled Ung to accept a deferred enrollment to NYU School of Law, where he will matriculate this winter.

“This procedure is an example of UC San Diego Health’s commitment to providing leading-edge, comprehensive care that encompasses both functional and aesthetic aspects,” said Dr. Reid. “This innovative approach ensures the patient's swift recovery and an improved quality of life.”

Dr. Hammer added that patients who lack access to these technologies typically require a years-long recovery to experience the same outcomes, with many additional surgeries.

“This procedure is done very rarely in the U.S. or across the world,” he added. “There are very few locations in California that have extensive experience with this technique and a handful in the entire United[PM5]  States. Prior to this case, Naval Medical Center San Diego was the only site in San Diego County that had this capability."

“The procedure in this case not only enables Felix to thrive in his future endeavors but is also instrumental in ensuring warfighter readiness for the military,” Dr. Hammer said. “Every single service member who has undergone this procedure is one more warfighter who remains poised to respond if called upon by granting them a dignified recovery from what otherwise could have been a devastating medical outcome.

About UC San Diego Plastic Surgery: UC San Diego Plastic Surgery is a renowned center for excellence, providing advanced, patient-centered care and leading-edge surgical solutions. With a team of highly skilled plastic surgeons, UC San Diego Plastic Surgery is committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation, education, and research to deliver exceptional outcomes for patients.