Google Cardboard helps doctor save baby's life

The cardboard viewer and an iPhone allowed a Miami doctor to visualize every step of a complicated, seven-hour surgery that had never been done before.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 7, 2016 at 4:05 PM
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MIAMI, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Doctors in Miami performed a seven-hour surgery on an infant after using Google Cardboard and an iPhone to visualize the procedure, which saved her life.

Five-month-old Teegan Lexcen was born with an unusual defect causing her to have one lung and half her heart. The condition baffled doctors at the Minnesota hospital where she was born, leading to her family being sent home with the hope they could make her comfortable before her heart gave out.

"The family was given the worst prognosis and told she was inoperable," Dr. Redomond Burke, a cardiovascular surgeon at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, told WFOR-TV. "That's a word we hate here."

Burke had hoped to construct a 3D model of Lexcen's heart, however the hospital's printer broke, forcing him to look into other options. While he'd contemplated ideas on the potential operation to correct the heart defect, called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Burke needed to be able to see and plan out the specific steps of the surgery.

Using Google Cardboard -- folded cardboard with lenses that turn any cell phone into a virtual reality device -- and an app called Sketchfab, Burke viewed images of Lexcen's heart similar to the 3D images he'd hoped to print.

The difference, he said, came in the virtual reality atmosphere he viewed her heart in, as opposed to on a computer screen, because he could move around and see every angle of the heart. He also was able to view inside her heart and, most importantly, visualize exactly how he'd fix it.

Lexcen's heart had only one ventricle, the right one, which Burke calls the "wimpier, weaker ventricle." Because of Taxcen's anatomy, surgeries normally employed for this type of defect wouldn't work, requiring the doctor to find another way to fix it.

Using Google Cardboard, Burke said he was able to devise a surgery that would allow the one ventricle to handle the entire heart's work. On the morning of December 10, after preparing for the procedure using his smartphone, Burke said there were no surprises and Laxcen's heart appeared in every way the same as he'd seen it, he told CNN.

The seven-hour open heart surgery involved rebuilding Lexcen's aorta with donated heart tissue, connecting her aorta and pulmonary artery, and placing a shunt from the right ventricle to her only pulmonary artery, according to a press release.

Lexcen is expected to leave the hospital in mid-January, though she will return to Miami for follow-up surgeries in the next several months.

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