3D-printed plastic used to patch up this man's skull

After severe head trauma forced doctors to remove part of Etienne Coon-Come Masiringi's skull, a 3D-printed piece of plastic was used to put it back together.

Before the plastic, Etienne Coon-Come Masiringi had to wear a helmet for 10 months to protect exposed brain

A part of Etienne Coon-Come Masiringi's skull was exposed for 10 months before doctors replaced it with some 3D-printed plastic. His hair is now growing back. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

In November 2016, Etienne Coon-Come Masiringi suffered severe head trauma and brain swelling, forcing doctors to remove part of his skull to relieve the pressure.

And when he finally woke up in a hospital bed, he couldn't recall what brought him there.

Coon-Come Masiringi had been growing dreadlocks for three years before his injury. Doctors had to shave them off to remove part of his skull. (Submitted)

"I just remember being very confused, and a little bit angry, because not only was a piece of my skull missing but also I had dreadlocks before, and the dreadlocks were gone," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning earlier this week.

Accounts vary about what happened the night he was injured. Doctors told Coon-Come Masiringi he fell from a balcony, but later on he was told he'd been assaulted. 

He, meanwhile, thinks he hurt himself during a psychotic episode after losing his student internship. He said he has an undiagnosed mental illness triggered by high-stress situations.

Coon-Come Masiringi may never know what actually happened that night.

Dark moments

After the piece of skull was removed, he had to protect his exposed brain by wearing a helmet while standing, even after he left the hospital.

He felt self-conscious about it, and found it difficult to relax in public.

"Having that helmet, it was just a constant reminder of what happened that night," he said. "There were some dark moments where I was depressed and just not in a good mood."

It continued for 10 months, until doctors were able to replace the missing piece of his skull with a 3D-printed piece of plastic.

He said it's helped he put the incident behind him.

'Feels a little bit different'

His skin grew back on top of the 3D printed piece, and with it his hair.

"Sure it feels a little bit different than the rest of your skull, but other than that it looks exactly the way it did before the injury," he said.

Hair and skin soon started forming over the 3D-printed fragment of plastic attached to Coon-Come Masiringi's skull. (Sumbitted)

"Physically I feel just top shape, and I'm looking forward to the future."

Coon-Come Masiringi will return to Carleton University next week, where he is starting his third year studing social work. He also is volunteering at the Ottawa Hospital, taking inspiration from the volunteers who helped him through his recovery.

But what he looks forward to most is the return of the dreadlocks that originally took him three years to grow. He's been re-growing his hair for about eight months.

"I'm just in the beginning stages but I will get to my destination."

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning