Google Cardboard, a $20 virtual reality device that utilizes a smartphone, has been credited with saving the life of an August-born infant who had been given a grim, terminal diagnoses.
Google Cardboard and the surgery
Firstly, this is just great news. However, it does beg the question why wouldn’t a hospital be equipped with a little higher-tech virtual reality headset than Google’s Cardboard that is made out of, well cardboard, and requires a smartphone.
Regardless, Dr. Redmond Burke, director of cardiovascular surgery for the Heart Program at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, utilized a program designed for Cardboard in order to visualize the surgery that he would undertake to save young Teegan Lexcen who was born in August with serious heart defects and just a single lung. Those defects included a blockage in the aortic arch as well as an overall underdeveloped heart with only one ventricle.
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Burke claims he was looking at any means to save the child given the frustration of seeing her next to her healthy identical sister.
“I was thinking we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to give them hope,” Burke recently told ABC News with regards to Teegan’s parents. “If they’re going to trust us with their baby’s life, we were going to honor their trust and do the best thing possible.”
Transferring CT scans to Cardboard
Originally the team had hoped to use a 3D printer to make a model of the child’s heart but it was, and this is almost criminal if not for the end result and the use of Cardboard, the printer was broken. Ultimately, Burke and his team were able to translate the multiple scans of the child’s heart to Cardboard in conjunction with an iPhone allowing Burke to see the heart from all angles essentially immersing him in the child’s chest cavity.
“I put it up to my eyes and I thought this is one of those — it’s an epiphany,” said Burke of the images they created. “It changes when you see something in a different way. … It gave me the information in my hands on demand.”
While Burke will likely be credited with the use of Google Cardboard and the seven hour surgery, that surgery only came off owing to Burke planning the procedure with a number of other doctors.
“You’re trying to create a work of art that saves someone’s life,” Burke said of the procedure. “With these babies’ hearts, I’ll walk through the operation and hit a block and then go back through the images. Ultimately, I won’t go into the operating room until I can picture in my mind all the steps.”
Teegan remains on a ventilator and will still require additional surgeries, but those wouldn’t be necessary if not for the one that has saved her life with the help of Google.
“This is the big hurdle,” Burke told ABC News. “She gets over this, we get through it.”
It’s long been said that virtual reality would ultimately help medical professionals with operations just like this one as well as other uses that give medical professionals a new perspective.
While VR remains the realm of the gamer, the technology is clearly there to make better use of a device that can save lives in addition to making cool videos and 360-degree viewing of the world we live.