Among thousands waiting for international travel curbs to be lifted is an 11-year-old Egyptian boy for whom spending the lockdown time in India has come with a new lease of life as he underwent a crucial heart surgery using a virtual reality model developed by the IIT Madras.
The child underwent the life-saving surgery at Chennai's MGM hospital using the virtual reality model to implant a heart pump after he was turned down by several hospitals in the US and Europe.
According to Dr KK Balakrishnan, Director of the Institute of Heart and Lung Transplant, MGM Healthcare, this was a first of its kind implant surgery successfully performed in India, while similar procedures have been performed twice in the US.
The technique will also be presented on Monday at the Annual conference of The American Society of Artificial Internal Organs in Chicago. The meeting is happening virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Who could have imagined that playstation-type glasses worn on the head and visualising spectacular images in a 3D environment can save a child's life ? The boy was suffering from a life-threatening condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy and severe pulmonary hypertension (very high pressure in lungs) with recurrent heart failure admissions for the last one year. He was airlifted in an air ambulance from Cairo before the lockdown was announced," he told PTI.
"He was a frail, very ill boy, skin and bones and drifting in and out of consciousness. After being turned down by several hospitals in the US and western Europe, the child was referred to me by the paediatric cardiologist in Cairo treating the child. The reason why he was turned down by several hospitals was simple. His very high lung pressure meant that a heart transplant was ruled out and there are no commercially available long term implantable heart pumps called LVADs or Left Ventricular assist devices for a child of this size in the world," he added.
The doctor explained that after arrival here, the child's heart failure worsened, and the only option was to consider whether somehow, a battery-operated, mechanical pump could be implanted to help the left chamber of the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.
"There were two major impediments. The existing pumps are built for adults and could they be fitted into the small chest cavity of a child? What if the chest could not be closed after the operation? That would be a disaster. Also, the size of the heart chamber, the left ventricle was a major concern, as it was heavily muscle bound, full of excess, useless muscle with very small cavity size. There was no way of knowing if the pump can be fitted inside the heart or it will be sticking out, if it was too big," he said.
Balakrishna then reached out to the IIT Madras' department of engineering design to check if a virtual reality model could be built from the CT scan of the child and the pump, so a virtual implant could be carried out to ensure that the implant was possible.
"A virtual model was built and wearing head mounted 3 D glasses, like a computer game, the pump could be implanted virtually, in various positions, to make sure that the procedure was possible. Armed with the confidence of this knowledge, the implant was carried out and it was a great success," said Krishna Kumar, Professor, IIT Madras.
"The boy has recovered rapidly, gained weight and has taken to dancing to Bollywood songs. They are waiting to return to Cairo, once air travel restrictions are lifted," he added.
International travel from the country has been suspended since March 22 ahead of the nationwide lockdown to contain spread of novel coronavirus. Close to 6 million coronavirus infections have been reported worldwide, with more than 365,000 deaths and almost 2.5 million recoveries, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.