When Google unveiled the Cardboard during the "Google I/O 2014," it was simply presented as an inexpensive way to experience Virtual Reality (VR) using one's smartphone. No one probably ever thought that the roughly $20 toy would end up saving the life of an infant who was deemed inoperable. Take that, critics!
Teegan Lexcen was born with only one lung and half a heart, and an operation to manage the fatal condition would likely cut short her already limited lifespan. That is, until Dr. Redmond Burke tapped the VR toy and found a way to save the baby's life.
Not only is a heart surgery difficult to perform, doctors also consider it to be risky as a very vital organ is involved. That's why Teegan was sent home from the Minnesota Hospital where she and her twin sister Riley were born with the grave news to expect the worst. Teegan refused and after two months of fighting, her parents brought her case to Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami where Dr. Burke worked as the chief of cardiovascular surgery.
"Teegan had the worst set of defects you can imagine... I've been doing surgery for 30 years. This is the first time I've seen a case like hers," Burke said in an interview. Still, Burke saw that Teegan had a strong will to live and he didn't want to give up on her without doing anything. In order to determine the possibilities though, he needed a three dimensional (3D) model of Teegan's heart but the 3D printer in the hospital was broken at the time.
Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist specializing in imaging, bore the bad news to Burke. However, Muniz also wouldn't give up. Recalling a discussion about the possibilities of VR for children's hearts, he quickly purchased a Google Cardboard, uploaded the images of Teegan's heart in his phone and ran it through the free application called Sketchfab.
It proved to be a huge advantage not only for Burke but for Teegan as well because a typical 3D printed heart would have only given Burke an image of the baby's heart. Using the Google Cardboard, he saw that Teegan's heart wasn't only in bad shape, it was also located farther to the left of her chest and that would have forced him to perform a clamshell incision on her.
"It's massive trauma to a baby -- it's just horrendous," he commented.
Using what he saw through the VR imaging, Burke was able to perform the incision on the proper area and spare the already weakened infant the trauma.
"It was the first time I've ever touched Google Cardboard... [it] gave a whole new perspective to this baby's heart," he said. Since he also saw Teegan's heart in detail, Muniz was able to determine what he could do by looking at every angle. By the time Teegan made it to the operating table on Dec.10, he was well-prepared and there was no longer an element of surprise. "Sometimes that's what makes the difference between life and death," he concluded.
The operation was precise and the doctors didn't waste even a single minute during the seven-hour surgery. They also wanted to do their best for the baby whose willpower to live never waned.
As for Teegan, she is continuing on the path to recovery and is expected to leave the hospital by mid-January.
"It was mind-blowing... To see this little cardboard box and a phone, and to think this is what saved our daughter's life," Cassidy Lexcen, Teegan's mother, said.
"Experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and affordable way," Google said of its cardboard viewer. Now they can add "save lives" in the description. You can check out the range of Google Cardboard certified viewers from the Google Cardboard website. You can also choose among different VR applications from Google Play.