Doctors Used VR to Save a Baby’s Life

Margherita Olivo
January 16th 2016

Google Cardboard was used by a cardiologist to train for a very risky heart surgery on a four months baby. Teegan was born with a serious problem: the heart was not where it should have been, too far to the left, taking the place of a lung that was never formed. The surgery was the only option, but unfortunately both the young age and the specific location of the heart made it virtually impossible to operate "in the dark".

Dr. Redmond Burke, who successfully executed the operation on Teegan, said "Surgeons need to "show" the entire procedure before entering the operating room. Many other teams had declared inoperable because they kept of facing dead ends".

The complex surgery was performed at the Children Hospital in Miami. Fortunately Dr. Juan-Carlos Muniz, head of the MRI Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, had an idea. He converted the 2D scanning in stereoscopic images (using Sketchfab), and he loaded it on an iPhone equipped with Google Cardboard. The cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Redmond Burke, was therefore able to get a better idea - much more precise - of the actual topography of Teegan's breast. Burke says:

"Two weeks before the surgery Dr. Juan-Carlos Muniz, who is responsible for the MRI, handed me a piece of cardboard with a smartphone inside. I looked inside and just by tilting my head I could see the patient’s heart, I could shoot it. I could manipulate it. I could see it as if I was in the operating room".

Doctors were able to convert 2D MRI scans of Teegan’s heart into a 3D model, then upload it onto an iPhone, and view it through Google’s VR headset. The procedure was then clear for the surgeons that could operate to save Teegan's life. Thanks to the VR imaging they were able to see where to make their first incision. During a seven-hour very delicate open-heart surgery, the doctors were able to rebuilt the aorta and connect it to the pulmonary artery. This is one of many examples of how current technologies have virtually unexplored potential. Virtual reality is often related to gaming, but Teegan's story is the proof that it has endless possibilities.

Source: Quartz. Image: Time

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