A team of doctors in Miami, Florida tried out their new Google Cardboard the other day. It wasn’t to ride a roller coaster or explore the Coliseum, however. It was to save the life of a four month old baby.
Google Cardboard is a viewing device which (in a relatively low-tech manner) gives the user a virtual reality experience. Essentially, it is a headset which fits over the eyes. A smartphone can be secured in the front of the headset, so that the viewer can see nothing but the screen, which displays a stereoscopic image that the viewer can “explore” by turning and clicking “buttons” to move forward.
It doesn’t sound much like a tool that could help Teegan Lexcen, a baby born with a malformed heart and lacking a left lung completely. As it turns out, however, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Prior to going to Miami for a second opinion, Teegan’s parents had visited doctors in their home state of Minnesota, who had told them that there was simply nothing to be done for the baby. They said that she was inoperable.
The Lexcens found that they just couldn’t accept that answer. So, they began contacting other doctors. Finally, the surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital heard about their plea for help and decided to give it their best shot, although they knew it wouldn’t be easy. And it wasn’t.
The problems started when the cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Redmond Burke, was having trouble interpreting the scans they had taken of Teegan’s heart. Despite having high resolutions scans, gaining a clear idea of how exactly her heart had been affected was nearly impossible. Due to the serious abnormalities with Teegan’s heart, the 2D MRI scans Dr. Burke had access to were just not giving him enough information to determine how to conduct the surgery without further injuring the little girl. At only 4 months old, and extremely frail, one mistake could have meant Teegan’s life.
He communicated his concerns to Dr. Juan-Carlos Muniz, head of the MRI department at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, hoping for some other type of imaging that might give him more to work with. Dr. Muniz had an idea. He took the 2D scans of the baby’s heart that he’d created, and converted them into the types of stereoscopic images that create a 3D virtual reality by using a Google Cardboard. He then put the images on his own iPhone, and secured it inside the cardboard.
But it was all worth it: Teegan survived the surgery and is now recovering with her relieved parents and her twin sister Riley.