Google Cardboard, the virtual reality headset made out of cardboard, was used by doctors to save the life of a baby. Not only did they save a life, but they also pioneered an extremely cheap use of virtual reality.
Teegan Lexcen, a four-month-old baby, was born with what cardiovascular surgeon Redmond Burke called “the worst set of defects you can imagine.” The baby only had half a heart and one lung. Doctors initially told Teegan’s parents, Cassidy and Chad Lexcen, that she would die, and there was nothing that could be done.
After a couple of weeks, the infant was still alive, and the parents started looking for a second opinion.
According to CNN, they found an article about the top 20 innovative pediatric surgeons and came upon Dr. Burke, who was number three on the list.
The doctor’s office responded almost immediately. The surgeon explained to the New York Daily News that he was inspired by the baby’s will to live.
“Teegan was tough. She didn’t slip away. She had a will to live. When you see a kid make it despite lethal defects you start saying ‘This kid’s a survivor.'”
Still, Teegan’s condition was rare and complicated. The doctor later said, “I’ve been doing surgery for 30 years. This is the first time I’ve seen a case like hers.”
He asked fellow pediatric surgeon Juan Carlos Muniz to make a 3-D model of the infant’s heart so he could start mapping out a surgery, but the hospital’s 3-D printer was broken. That’s where Google Cardboard came in.
Google Cardboard is a pair of cardboard goggles that can hold a smartphone. CNN reports that Dr. Muniz downloaded images onto an iPhone and with an app called Sketchfab created a virtual environment for Burke to figure out the surgery.
Google Cardboard sells for less than $20, and Sketchfab is free. Not only is the equipment cheap, but it also actually proved to be better than a 3-D model would have been.
Initially, Dr. Burke feared that he would have to do what is called a “clamshell incision” to reach the heart. That procedure involves making a midline incision, plus a cut going from the center of the chest to the left. Teegan’s heart was far left of where it should have been.
Burke described the clamshell incision as “horrendous” and extremely traumatizing for a baby’s body. Since Teegan’s health had already been deteriorating for three months, she would not likely survive the cut.
Using a 3-D model, that would have been the doctor’s only option, but Google Cardboard gave him more options because it showed more context, the rib-cage and other features, instead of just the heart.
Google Cardboard also allowed the doctor to see that the baby had only a right ventricle. Normal hearts have two — the left one carries blood to the body; the weaker right one supplies blood to the lungs. Teegan’s single ventricle was doing both of those jobs. That defect complicates a number of procedures, and forced Dr. Burke to come up with a surgery that would allow the right ventricle to continue to do double-duty for the long-run.
Because every second counts in the operating room, all these complications and procedures had to be figured out on the Google Cardboard before hand. In the end, it worked perfectly.
The surgery was 29 days ago, and Teegan has been taken off a respirator and is on the road to recovery.
The baby’s mother, Casside Lexcen, was amazed at what a huge difference the Google Cardboard could make.
“It was mind-blowing. To see this little cardboard box and a phone, and to think this is what saved our daughter’s life.”
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]