Google Cardboard looks like the packing material, but the gadget was just used by doctors at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami to save the life of a baby who had been sent home to die.
Teegan Lexcen was born in August with heart and lung defects so rare that doctors had never before seen a case like hers. She had only one lung, and the entire left half of her heart was missing.
The doctors at the hospital in Minnesota where she was born sent Teegan home with her parents, Cassidy and Chad Lexcen, a hospice nurse, and a list of medications they could use to ease her discomfort. Cassidy and Chad were also caring for Teegan's twin sister, Riley, who was born without any birth defects.
The family made peace with their situation and Cassidy and Chad awaited the inevitable. But after two months, when Teegan was still alive — albeit struggling — they began to wonder if the doctors were right. They researched doctors and wrote to several before contacting Dr. Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami.
As Burke reviewed little Teegan's case, he asked his colleague, Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, to make a 3-D model of Teegan's heart using the images that the Lexcen's had sent him. He was dismayed to learn that the hospital's 3-D printer was on the fritz. But Muniz had another idea. He had been talking recently with another pediatric cardiologist about using virtual reality to see a child's heart prior to surgery.
Muniz bought a $20 Google Cardboard, downloaded the app Sketchfab to his iPhone, and uploaded the images of Teegan's heart.
This little cardboard gadget retails for as little as $20, or you can make your own using Google's downloadable instructions. (Photo: Google.com)
When Muniz showed the device to Burke, they realized that the gadget was going to be a game changer — especially for Teegan. Unlike 3-D images, Burke could use Google Cardboard to move all around Teegan's chest cavity, seeing all angles of her heart and lung placement without opening her up.
Burked used the gadget to figure out how he could heal Teegan's heart and even the best incision he could use to access her heart without adding unnecessary stress to her tiny body. He did all of this before he was even in the operating room.
Burke performed the surgery on Teegan with no surprises, telling CNN that her heart appeared exactly as it had in the Google Cardboard image.
Four weeks later, Teegan was taken off her ventilator and was breathing on her own. In the next two weeks, she will once again be sent home with her parents, but this time she's expected to make a full recovery. All thanks to a quick-thinking team of doctors, and a $20 cardboard gadget.