Pamela Shavaun Scott, with a 3D printed copy of her own skull. Her right index finger is indicating the location of the meningioma she had removed.

Make Magazine

The summer of 2013 found Michael Balzer in good health. A few years earlier, he’d struggled with a long illness that had cost him his job. As he recovered, he built an independent career creating 3D graphics and helping his wife, a psychotherapist named Pamela Shavaun Scott, develop treatments for video game addiction. Balzer’s passion is technology, not medicine, but themes of malady and recovery have often surfaced during his digital pursuits. But Balzer didn’t feel the full impact of that connection until that summer, shortly after he launched his own business in 3D design, scanning, and printing. In August 2013, just as the new venture was getting off the ground, Scott started getting headaches.

It might have been nothing, but Scott had gotten her thyroid removed a few months earlier, so the pair had been keeping an especially close eye on anything that might have indicated a complication. Balzer pestered his wife to get an MRI, and when she finally agreed, the scan revealed a mass inside her skull, a three-centimeter tumor lodged behind her left eye. They were understandably terrified, but neurologists who read the radiology report seemed unconcerned, explaining that such masses were common among women, and suggested Scott have it checked again in a year.
Lodged just behind Scott’s left eye was a three-centimeter tumor

Lodged just behind Scott’s left eye was a three-centimeter tumor

That didn’t sit well with Balzer. Scott’s recent thyroid surgery had taught them that getting the best care requires being proactive and extremely well informed. A typical thyroid removal is performed via a large incision across the throat that requires a long, uncomfortable recovery and leaves a big scar, but when he and Scott began looking for alternatives, they discovered that she could avoid all that if they traveled from their home in California to the Center for Robotic Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. There, surgeons perform delicate procedures with a robotic arm that scales down their movements, making them smaller and more precise than what the human hand is capable of alone. The experience familiarized Balzer and Scott with both the cutting edge of medical technology and the importance of doing their own research. So although the first doctors told them to wait, Balzer and Scott sent the MRI results to a handful of neurologists around the country. Nearly all of them agreed that Scott needed surgery.

Lodged just behind Scott’s left eye was a three-centimeter tumor

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