Google Cardboard is a $20 contraption that is sold online and allows you to see images in a 3D virtual reality. Bluntly put, it is similar to a pair of big square glasses, you are required to stick the iPhone inside and using the right app, you can enjoy virtual reality. Now considering what it does and the cost of this gadget, can you imagine that this device helped surgeons save a baby’s life? The life of a baby who had been deemed a goner for sure and the doctors had sent her back home?
Before we dive into the story and unfold the specifics and the miracles that took place at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, know that the baby, Teegan, was taken off the ventilator after four weeks of surgery on Wednesday and is now breathing on her own. According to doctors, she can go back home in another two weeks and will be able to make a full recovery. Cassidy Lexcen, her mother, said, “It was mind-blowing. To see this little cardboard box and a phone, and to think this is what saved our daughter’s life.”
Teegan Lexcen was born in August with a peculiar anatomy; she only had one lung and her heart’s left side was missing. The doctors in Minnesota told the baffled parents that nothing could be done and sent them home with medications and a hospice nurse to make sure that Teegan was as comfortable as possible. Two months passed and the parents began wondering if the doctors were right or not.
Long story short, the couple was able to reach out to Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. Cassidy recalls, “I felt like we were racing against the clock.” They sent the images of Teegan’s heart to the hospital and awaited the response.
During a conference that involved 30 cardiac doctors and nurses at the Hospital, Teegan’s pictures were showed and ideas were thrown and discussed as to how she can be helped. No one had any definitive plan and Burke asked Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, to make a 3D model of Teegan’s heart. Can you guess what happened? After a few hours, Muniz told that the 3D printer was broken. He said, “Technology always goes on the fritz at the worst possible time.”
This seemingly unfortunate incident caused Muniz to look for better options. He had recently bought a Google Cardboard after talking about virtual reality with Dr. David Ezon – a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He used an app, Sketchfab, along with Teegan’s heart images that he had downloaded on his iPhone and then showed the end result to Burke.
Making use of the goggles, allowed the duo to analyze the heart from every angle and understand how it was working and what it was lacking. Burke was able to visualize what needed to be done to help Teegan.
Do you know what makes the difference between life and death? It is about knowing beforehand what you’re going to do! 10th December, 2015 is the day when 4 months old Teegan underwent surgery in Miami.
We will just summarize what happened without making this article into a long and medical term filled kind of post. The Google Cardboard allowed Burke to perform surgery and to perform it quite well. Teegan’s heart was located on the far left side of her chest and at first the idea of gaining access to heart would require a midline incision along with a clamshell incision – the incision you will make to go from the center to the heart. Burke said, “Its massive trauma to a baby — it’s just horrendous. She was dwindling away. She’d been slowly dying for three months.” By making use of the virtual image, Burke was able to come up with a way to gain access to her heart, despite the heart’s unusual location, via a midline incision.
The next phase of help came when he was inside and had to tackle a heart that only sported one ventricle (right) instead of the usual pair of ventricles (left and right). The right one is supposed to supply blood to the lungs while the left one supplies blood to the body. Teegan’s right ventricle so far had been doing the job of both ventricles and it was not going to hold out much longer. Burke says, “The right ventricle is the wimpier, weaker ventricle, and if ventricles could talk, it would say ‘I can’t do this. I’m not designed for this job.”
The conventional surgery for one ventricle wouldn’t work with Teegan and Burke came up with a new one where he shored up and rerouted her ventricle so that it was able to hold out long term. This all is something he had to figure out well before surgery because during surgery, every passing minute puts the patient at more risk and especially a child only four months old is at a higher risk for brain and heart damage.
Burke said, “Sometimes that’s what makes the difference between life and death.”