One set of parents may be adding Google Cardboard to their good tidings this year after the virtual reality technology and viewer helped saved their dying baby girl.

This wasn’t just a Christmas miracle — but modern medicine and technology combined — that saved the life of a newborn in desperate need of a surgery that other doctors shied away from performing. Thanks to the forward thinking of Dr. Redmond Burke and his team at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, four-month-old Teegan Lexcen is alive today. With the help of virtual reality and Google Cardboard, Dr. Burke was able to perform this complex operation.

Teegan was born with only one lung and her heart deformed. With the left side of her heart being severely underdeveloped — due to not having a left pulmonary artery — what remained of her heart had shifted into the cavity where her left lung would have been. The prognosis was bleak. Doctors in her birth state of Minnesota told the parents Teegan’s case was inoperable. She was going to die.

But that didn’t stop Cassidy and Chad Lexcen from doing all they could to save the baby, and to make sure their other little girl, Teegan’s twin Riley, would grow up knowing her sister. That’s when the family found Dr. Burke.


Dr. Burke is a congenital heart surgeon who happened to grow up in Cupertino, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. His approach to medicine, especially in finding less invasive and traumatic ways to operate on patients, has resulted in him pioneering many new techniques and technologies used in operating rooms today.

In Teegan’s case, one of the biggest obstacles facing Burke, and other surgeons who refused to operate on the little girl, was getting a visual of what was going on inside her chest. While MRI’s give a good reading on the scope of the matter, navigating the nuances and structure of this young child’s heart was critical. Burke needed to see where he should first make his incisions.

That’s where Dr. Juan-Carlos Muniz stepped in. He runs the MRI program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and came to Dr. Burke with a smartphone and cardboard housing. He took the scans of Teegan’s chest and made a 3D model of them, a virtual recreation for Dr. Burke to view before ever operating on the patient: “I looked inside and just by tilting my head I could see the patient’s heart. I could turn it. I could manipulate it. I could see it as if I were standing in the operating room.”

While most of us think about VR as the next video game platform developers are trying to push, the potential for virtual reality in the operating room is life changing. While VR is already being used to help train some medical students, placing a surgeon in a virtual setting of their patient’s body could lead to better operating procedures and decrease potential risks. The more the doctor knows about their patient, the better equipped they will be to handle anything that may arise under the knife.

Teegan’s surgery was performed on December 10. It took approximately seven hours. It was a success.


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