Thanks to a simple cardboard contraption and an innovative set of surgeons, a Minnesota baby born with only one lung and half a heart is expected to make a full recovery from surgery after doctors initially told her family her situation was helpless.
Fox 2 Now reported via CNN that doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami used a set of Google Cardboard glasses, a virtual reality product that retails for less than $20 online, to map out the surgery for little Teegan Lexcen, who was born in August.
Teegen’s parents, Cassidy and Chad Lexcen, told CNN that their doctors in Minnesota initially sent them home, saying Teegen would die and there was nothing they could do to help her. Two weeks later, Teegen was still alive, so the Lexcens began searching for a second opinion.
CNN reported that Chad’s sister eventually stumbled upon an article called “The 20 Most Innovative Pediatric Surgeons Alive Today,” and Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, the No. 3 surgeon on the list, caught the Lexcens’ eyes.
They contacted the hospital and heard back immediately. Although they hadn’t seen a condition like Teegen’s before, they brainstormed ways to help the little girl. Burke then reportedly coordinated with Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, to make a 3-D model of the little girl’s heart.
The team’s 3-D printer was out of service, but Muniz thought of a different option— an idea inspired by conversations about virtual reality with Dr. David Ezon, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
In light of the 3-D printer being broken, Ezon took the Google Cardboard he had on hand and used it to pre-plan Teegen’s heart surgery using virtual reality. The technology was even more precise than the 3-D images he’d produced on his computer— with the Google Cardboard, he could manipulate the model of Teegen’s heart to view it at different angles and perceive its structure from inside the organ, CNN reported.
During the Dec. 10 surgery on Teegen, doctors found Google Cardboard was more helpful than 3-D printing could have been. With the device, CNN reported that they were able to see her heart’s condition and location relative to the other parts of her body, and they were able to conceptualize a new surgery that overcame the challenges of Teegen’s heart having only one ventricle instead of the normal two.
Doctors carried out the surgery uneventfully, and on Wednesday, four weeks post-surgery, Teegen was breathing on her own. CNN reported that doctors predicted she would make a full recovery and be home within two weeks.