If you’ve never heard of ‘Google Cardboard’, think of a toy-like device similar to 3D-goggles. It looks like something you’d assemble out of cereal box. Stick your iPhone inside and with the right app, you can see images in three-dimensional virtual reality.
While it retails for less than $20 online, it’s a priceless item to one family in particular, as doctors used the novelty glasses to save their baby’s life.
Doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami employed the glasses to map out an operation they’d have been unable to see – and therefore perform – otherwise.
She was originally diagnosed with something doctor’s had never witnessed before: she has only one lung, and almost all of the left half of her heart is missing. Doctors at the time told the parents there wasn’t much that could be done.
Refusing to believe there was nothing to be done for their daughter, they looked for second opinions. They contacted friends, anyone that could have an answer, but had no luck.
That’s when Teegan’s aunt discovered an article entitled “The 20 Most Innovative Pediatric Surgeons Alive Today.” No. 3 on the list was Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. She reached out, and Burke asked for images immediately.
Similar to the doctors in Minnesota, the Miami triage hadn’t seen a condition like Teegan’s. Burke asked a colleague to create 3-D model of Teegan’s heart, which has helped visualize complicated cases before. The 3D printer was broken at the time so they couldn’t make the model – and that’s where Google Cardboard came in.
Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, has been toying with Google Cardboard, and he felt now would be the time to try it out. Using an app called Sketchfab, Muniz downloaded images of Teegan’s heart onto his iPhone and showed them to Burke. With the goggles, it was possible to move around and see the heart from every angle — to almost be inside the heart checking out its structure. Using the Cardboard, Burke could plan exactly how to fix Teegan’s heart.
Google Cardboard became superior to 3D printing in this situation. A 3D print would be a good way of planning operations on the heart itself, but because Teegan is a baby, he needed to be able to visualize it in context with her ribcage and other structures. Her heart is much further to the left side, so the procedure had to be completely customized.
The novelty glasses not only helped gain proper access to the heart, it helped during the actual procedure, too. A normal heart has two ventricles, but Teegan only had one. It was doing all the work, pumping blood to and from the heart, clearly overworked. Thanks to the glasses, Burke was able to invent a new surgery, shoring up and rerouting her one ventricle so it could do the work of both ventricles long term.
Thanks to Google Cardboard, he was able to map and plan the entire operation the night before. When the day finally came, he proceeded with no surprises.
“Sometimes that’s what makes the difference between life and death,” he said.
It’s been a month since Teegan Lexcen’s surgery, and she’s off her ventilator and recovering well; she’ll be able to go home and make a full recovery within two weeks.