VR Technology Aids Surgery to Separate Conjoined Twins

This week, VR helped make medical history when surgeons from around the world teamed up to perform a groundbreaking 33-hour procedure in a “virtual operating theatre.” The surgery being performed was one of the most complex separation procedures ever seen.

The operation to separate three-year-old conjoined twins Arthur and Bernardo Lima was a success. Born in rural Brazil, the twins were joined at the brain meaning that this would be an immensely risky operation. 

The team performing this medical feat was made up of specialists from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and surgeons in Rio de Janeiro. In total, seven surgeries were performed utilising the skills of more than 100 medical staff.

Gemini Untwinned

Initially, surgeons in Rio De Janeiro had tried, unsuccessfully, to separate the twins. Because of the shared brain tissue, the children’s parents had been told that the surgery was deemed too risky.

The Brazilian hospital that had previously been caring for the twins contacted the British charity, Gemini Untwinned to ask for assistance. The organisation is run by pediatric surgeon Noor ul Owase Jeelani and specialises in separating conjoined twins. 

Despite Gemini Untwinned’s previous experience separating twins that are joined at the head, the operation to separate the Lima twins was by far the most complicated yet. The major difficulty in this procedure was that Arthur and Bernando shared vital veins in the brain. They were also the oldest twins to receive this type of surgery. 

How Was VR Used?

During the preparation stages, surgeons worked with VR engineers to create detailed and accurate 3D models of the twins. These models were made using images from MRI and CT scans. This gave a fuller perspective of the children’s conjoined brains. 

Using these 3D models with VR equipment, surgeons could experiment and develop safe surgical techniques that would provide the best results possible. 

The operation itself was performed by a surgical team at Paulo Niemeyer State Brain Institute in Rio De Janeiro. Using VR headsets, Noor ul Owase Jeelani and other international surgeons were able to take part in the multiple surgeries needed to separate the children remotely. 

A VR Success

Although VR is finding more uses in the medical field, this is the first time a procedure on this scale has been attempted. Its success wouldn’t have been possible without the innovative use of VR technology.

Since the operation, the twins have had a major increase in blood pressure. They are said to be doing well and have been reunited after four days apart. They will celebrate their fourth birthday in September and will continue to receive support for the next six months.

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