YOUR HEALTH: Making a brain to fix a brain

SAN FRANCISCO, California - Most kids know all about virtual reality.   It’s how they play video games and watch movies.

But now a major hospital system is putting this familiar 3D technology into the hands of its pediatric neurosurgeons to help saves lives.

Mathias Hahn has always been the type of kid his mom would never have to worry about.

Straight A’s, basketball, and cross country.

But that all changed last fall.

“I woke up having a really bad headache,” Mathias said.

It soon became clear to his mom that something more serious was happening.

Mathias’ mother, Lindsay Hahn, said, “The emergency room was able to do a CAT scan and they found the bleed.”

With a hemorrhage on his brain, Mathias was taken to the hospital where he began the fight for his life.

“He was lying in his ICU bed, paralyzed on one side and literally unable to say a word,” said Dr. Kurtis Auguste, Pediatric Neurosurgeon at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

“It was super scary. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to move again, maybe,” Mathias shared.

When Dr. Auguste began to operate to relieve pressure, he spotted a tumor.

“Where this was tucked underneath the edge of the bone, my visibility was limited and it was very difficult for me to reach and see,” he explained.

But this doctor let technology guide him.

A virtual reality mapping system gave him a 360- degree view of Mathias’ brain constructed from CT and MRI images.

It allowed Dr. Auguste to step inside Mathias’ brain and see the tumor from a new vantage point.   He then shared his plan and headset with Mathias and his mom.

“It was comforting to see he had this tool that allowed him to see the tumor in so many different ways and decide how he could approach it safely,” Lindsay said.

Which is exactly what the doctor was able to do in surgery thanks to the VR technology. And as a result, Mathias is now healthy and cancer free.

“I can just be a normal kid again,” Mathias said.

The virtual reality model provides surgeons a continuous guide to the intricate and crowded space inside our brains. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland is among several institutions across the country to use this technology.

MORE ABOUT THE NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Dr. Kurtis Auguste said “much of what we do is two dimensional; these are pictures on a flat screen. It’s a little ironic because brain surgery is one of the most three dimensional exercises that you do in medicine and yet everything that we do for rehearsal purposes prior to surgery is all done in two dimensions. This technology (from the company Surgical Theater) is the first of its kind to not just be three dimensional but is immersive and provides you a 360 degree vantage point of the pathology.”

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com