Virtual reality is part of new tech used in GW’s operating rooms

The Novarad system projects a patient’s CT scan on the outside of their body. (Courtesy Novarad)

Virtual reality is making its way to the operating room, and it’s one of a few new tools surgeons are using at George Washington University.

A school bus driver by day, Bonita Bell chalks it up to divine intervention that she wasn’t driving when she had a pulmonary embolism. She was rushed to G.W. Hospital and didn’t wake up for 10 days. At one point, she was kept alive by an artificial heart before new robotic technology removed the blood clots from her heart and lungs.

“My oldest son showed me a picture of the clots that were removed, and it was quite extensive. For them to be able to use this equipment to remove the blood clots was really, really amazing,” Bell said.

She said she understands how her doctors saved her life. “Hey, listen, this is my Oscar, my Grammy, my Emmy, my CMA award. I don’t have a long gown to trip over — I have a heart. There’s no stage big enough to thank the people who helped with my recovery,” Bell said.

A virtual reality program is helping Dr. Keith Mortman show patients what their tumor looks like inside their body. Before, he used to sketch on a pad of paper to show a patient where their tumor was located.

“This allows them to put on the headset, and this is three-dimensional, so the patient gets a deeper meaning, what the tumor looks like, where it’s located, how big it is relative to other structures, as well as the surgical approach I need to take in order to remove it,” Mortman said.

A third technology, called Novarad, uses a patient’s CT scan and projects it as a hologram on the exterior of their body, so the surgeon can use the image as a guide.

“Preoperatively, you could even make little marks, circles or incisions,” said Dr. Wendell Gibby, who co-created the technology with Dr. Steven Cvetko at Novarad.

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