Ever since the inception of the modern medicine, it has undergone a number of transformative developments. Over the years, doctors across the world have grown accustomed to examining X-rays as the best available road map to the inside of the human body. It is somewhat like looking at a 2-D terrestrial map on your phone and imagining the 3-D world over it.

Obviously, like any other road map, an X-ray image is only an incomplete projection of the reality. It often conceals or misinterprets the reality. That’s why, even in 2017, most surgeries often involve an alarming degree of guesswork and improvisation. May be, that’s the reason why medicine is still considered as much an art as it is science!!

There have been continuous efforts in the past few years to reduce the uncertainties in medical surgeries. However, it is now being touted that Virtual Reality can be that one breakthrough technology.

The latest evidence in support of the revolutionary capabilities of VR in surgery is the (successful) separation of two conjoined newborn sisters in the US state of Minnesota. Until their separation in May, Paisleigh and Paislyn Martinez were attached from their lower chest to their bellybuttons — a condition known as thoraco-omphalopagus. Both babies survived the dangerous, nine-hour procedure, a development that Saltzman and other surgeons involved link directly to their use of virtual reality before surgery.

The Case

Before they were separated in May this year, Paisleigh and Paislyn Martinez were attached from their lower chest to their bellybuttons. This is a rare condition technically called thoraco-omphalopagus. In this condition, the co-joined hearts of the twins create many fold complications. During the procedure, the babies survived the dangerous nine-hour, something the surgeons directly attributed to the use of virtual reality before surgery.

Use of VR

Using goggle-like virtual reality glasses a month before surgery, the surgeons Saltzman, Azakie and their team who were handling the case, were able to explore a 3-D model of the twins’ hearts, virtually embedding themselves inside the walnut-sized organs of the little ones, just as the infant’s anatomy had been blown up to the size of a living room.

“It’s completely surreal and the resolution is unbelievable,” Azakie said. “The details are absolutely superb.”

The opportunity to observe the autonomy with such a clarity was not only riveting, but revelatory, doctors said. So much so, that the doctors were stunned, and they decided to overhauls their entire operative strategy. Soon after putting on the glasses, Saltzman and Azakie discovered something which would have slipped through otherwise. A new connective tissue — a “bridge” — linking the girls’ co-joined hearts. It was unexpected.

The particular defect meant that one of the hearts was heavily dependent on the other, burdening it. This meant that the lives of both babies were in jeopardy and doctors would have to conduct the surgery several months early, before the twins were as robust and healthy as doctors had hoped they’d be.

Creating the virtual model of the infants’ hearts was the result of intense planning and robust procedures. The project was implemented by the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center. Experts here used specially designed software to turn MRI’s and CT scans of the organs into detailed, 3-dimensional virtual models.


It’s been about two months since the separation of the two sisters, and they are still recovering. But the doctors are confident that eventually they will live two independent, healthy lives with no implications of them ever being co-joined. Now they expect the VR modeling technique used in the case to appear in some reputed medical journals, setting an example for future development and use of the technology.


Source: Washington Post


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