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$20 online purchase saves baby born with one lung, and almost all of the left half of her heart missing

by | Jan 8, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

A toy-like cardboard contraption that sells for less than $20 online has helped save the life of a baby who was so sick that doctors told her parents to take her home to die. Google Cardboard looks like a set of big square goggles.

A toy-like cardboard contraption that sells for less than $20 online has helped save the life of a baby who was so sick that doctors told her parents to take her home to die. Google Cardboard looks like a set of big square goggles.

This is a story of inventive, creative, almost magical surgical innovation that saved the life of a month-old baby, Teegan Lexcen.

Reading the story, written by Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent , reminds you of the “Apollo 13 movie” in which NASA’s Crew Systems Division “put together an improvised adapter using all sort of weird and random parts, like a flight manual cover, suit parts, and socks,” to borrow an explanation from Jesus Diaz.

Cohen’s story is long and complicated. I will only highlight her very readable account, but the full story is well worth your while.

Teegan was born with a condition doctors in Minnesota (and elsewhere) had never seen: only one lung, and almost all of the left half of her heart is missing. According to Cohen, her doctors said “there was nothing they could do. Soon after she was born, they sent her home with a hospice nurse and medications to make her as comfortable as possible.”

When the baby (whose twin was doing fine) did not pass away, the parents started looking for a second opinion. Eventually the images of Teegan’s heart were seen by a team of 30 cardiac doctors and nurses at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital In Miami in November.

Some were skeptical anything could be done; they, too, had never seen a child with this condition. Then, Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery

asked Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, to make a 3-D model of Teegan’s heart. It had helped in complicated cases before.

A few hours later, Muniz reported bad news: Their 3-D printer was broken. “Technology always goes on the fritz at the worst possible time,” he lamented.

But it turned out to be the best possible time, because it forced Muniz to come up with an option that worked better.

By that Cohen meant, as odd as it may sound, virtual reality, specifically a Google Cardboard device that you can buy for less than $20 online. He was able to download images of the child’s heart onto his iPhone using an app called Sketchfab.

“They were similar, yet different from 3-D images they’d been using on computer screens,” Cohen explained. “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.”

What made this so critical is instead of having to make a series of drastic–and potentially fatal incisions–Dr. Burke ( with the use of the virtual image) “figured out a way to do just the normal midline incision and spare her the dreaded clamshell cut.”

Dr. Burke knew that Teegan’s unique defects and anatomy meant he could not employ the usual surgical technique. Aided once again by the virtual image, “Burke invented a new surgery, shoring up and rerouting her one ventricle so it could do the work of both ventricles long term,” Cohen wrote. She ends her fascinating story on the highest of high notes:

The night before Teegan’s surgery, Burke lay in bed imagining her heart based on the Google Cardboard image, mapping out the precise steps he would take in the operating room.

When he opened her up the next day, her heart was exactly the same as the image. He proceeded with no surprises. “Sometimes that’s what makes the difference between life and death,” he said.

Tip of the hat to lifenews.com.

Categories: Health Care