Doctors in Florida recently used a Google Cardboard headset to plan an operation that saved a baby girl's life.
Goggle Cardboard is a foldable virtual reality headset that uses a smartphone as the screen. The phone is placed a certain distance away from the 3D lenses in the headset, and when you run specific apps on the phone it creates a virtual reality experience. Teegan Lexcen was born with a unique defect that the doctors had never seen before: most of the left half of her heart is missing and she has only one lung. Heart surgeons were able to use the simple VR setup to design a new surgical procedure that saved Teegan's life.
Teegan's parents were originally told by their doctors in Minnesota that nothing could be done, and the doctors sent the family home with a hospice nurse and medications to make the baby girl's passing as comfortable as possible. Two months later, Teegan was still alive, so the parents started looking into other options. They found Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, in an titled "20 Most Innovative Pediatric Surgeons Alive Today."
Burke, along with a team of heart surgeons at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, originally wanted to 3D print a model of Teegan's heart, but upon learning that their 3D printer was broken, they turned to virtual reality. Doctors downloaded 3D images of the heart to an iPhone using the app . The images were similar to the 3D models that the doctors had on their computers, but made it easier to accurately view every angle of the heart's structure.
Two major difficulties were involved in performing heart surgery on Teegan. The first is that her heart is farther to the left of her chest than normal. Burke originally feared that he would have to perform what is known as a clamshell incision—cutting from the top to the bottom of the breastbone and then cutting from the center of the chest out to the left side of the body.
"It's massive trauma to a baby—it's just horrendous," Burke told .
But Burke was able to use the 3D image in Google Cardboard to visualize the precise location of Teegan's heart within her ribcage. Using this information, he determined that he would be able to make a simpler midline incision, just the breastbone cut, and still access the heart.
The second challenge is that Teegan has only one ventricle instead of two. Usually, the right ventricle of the heart supplies blood to the lungs while the left pumps blood to the rest of the body. In Teegan's case, the right ventricle was doing the work of both, and the left ventricle is usually the larger and stronger of the two. There is a standard surgery for children born with one ventricle, but it would not work in Teegan's case due to her unique defects.
Again, Google Cardboard helped Burke come up with a solution. The virtual image he viewed allowed him to come up with a completely new surgical procedure, shoring up and rerouting Teegan's right ventricle so it could continue to pump blood to both her lungs and body. Having spent hours examining the 3D image of Teegan's heart in Google Cardboard, Burke pulled off the procedure with no complications.