Doctors Use $20 Google Gadget to Save “Inoperable” Baby’s Life

Image Source: Nicklaus Children's Hospital
Image Source: Nicklaus Children’s Hospital

One Minnesota family is celebrating the miraculous recovery of their baby girl, and they have Google (and a few talented doctors) to thank for it.

Cassidy and Chad Lexcen welcomed identical twin girls back in August. One of their daughters, Teegan, was born with only one lung and half of a heart with multiple defects that her doctors considered inoperable. Because of the weakness caused by Teegan’s physical condition, doctors estimated that she would not live long after birth.

Despite the grim prognosis, the Lexcens weren’t ready to give up without a fight — Teegan’s parents continued to search for a second opinion, until they found Dr. Redmond Burke of Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Dr. Burke, an accomplished surgeon and father of three daughters, agreed to take on the seemingly hopeless case right before Christmas. As Dr. Burke explained in his TODAY interview, he had never seen a 3-month-old baby with her heart in her left chest, no left lung, and a lung in her right chest in all of his 30 years of practice.

To perform this complex surgery in virtually uncharted territory, Dr. Burke turned to virtual reality for help.

While brainstorming with Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist and expert in imaging, the doctors hoped to make a 3-D model of Teegan’s heart to better map the surgery. Unfortunately, the hospital’s 3-D printer was out of service. Dr. Muniz then decided to go a different route, inspired by conversations he’d had about virtual reality with a colleague, Dr. David Ezon, another pediatric cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Image Source: Nicklaus Children's Hospital
Image Source: Nicklaus Children’s Hospital

Dr. Ezon offered up his guidance and his own $20 Google Cardboard device to help plan Teegan’s heart surgery, and the rest, as they say, is history. The team of doctors was able to use Google Cardboard to view a model of Teegan’s heart at different angles before her surgery on December 10. Because of the doctors’ quick thinking and innovation, the team customized a new surgery specific to Teegan’s unique case — and it was a success. Teegan returned home within two weeks of surgery, though she does have a long road of recovery ahead, with more surgeries to follow. But as Dr. Burke explained, half the battle was won in the operating room with the help of an inexpensive virtual reality device.

While there’s nothing more frightening than having a child in the hospital, there’s also nothing more comforting than realizing that doctors really are on your side. As we saw in Teegan’s case, there are a few exceptional doctors who won’t take no for an answer and are willing to go to any length to pull off a surgery that could save a child.

Interestingly enough, many of the “miraculous” cases that we’ve seen in the past few years involve the use of very basic technology, like Google Cardboard or 3-D printers. In 2014, a Michigan doctor 3-D printed a splint that made it possible for a toddler to breathe, and a few months later, a doctor in New York used a model of a 3-D printed heart to save a 2-week-old baby from needing more than one invasive surgery. In 2015, Polish doctors printed the world’s first 3-D fetal heart model that can be used to detect early heart defects.

Doctors are using all kinds of other tricks to pull off the impossible, too. A group of Missouri doctors made headlines in 2013 when they repaired a baby’s brain aneurysm with a few drops of superglue.

Groundbreaking stories like these are especially encouraging for parents of children with serious health issues, and what’s even more inspiring is how simple technologies are being used for much bigger purposes. This time, it was just another trendy piece of Google gear that helped to save a baby’s life.

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