Virtual reality shows exactly how COVID-19 can damage the lungs

[VR is providing a new way to see what the Coronavirus does to a patient’s lungs, which in addition to helping the medical community could help the public understand the seriousness of the pandemic. See the original version of this story from WJLA in Washington, D.C. for four more images, a 1:47 minute news report and another 0:34 minute video. Surgical Theater has a 1:40 minute video showing the VR rendering on YouTube, which is taken from a 13:02 minute video and podcast available from George Washington University Hospital. –Matthew]

A new perspective: Virtual reality shows exactly how COVID-19 can damage the lungs

By Heather Graf, WJLA
March 23, 2020

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – High-tech imaging is now providing a first-of-its-kind look at the damage COVID-19 can inflict on a patient’s lungs.

Dr. Keith Mortman, the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at George Washington University Hospital, used a CAT scan from an actual coronavirus patient to create the virtual reality rendering.

“So this patient is a gentleman in his late 50’s, who initially had a fever and a non-productive cough like many other people. He presented to a nearby hospital with respiratory symptoms, and the respiratory symptoms progressed quite rapidly, to the point where he had to be intubated and put on the ventilator,” said Dr. Mortman.

That patient is now being cared for at George Washington University Hospital.

Mortman worked with a company called Surgical Theater to create a virtual reality rendering of that patient’s lungs. The rendering shows extensive damage in both lungs.

“It’s quite alarming to see, in all honesty. Because unlike your garden variety pneumonia that might affect only one small part of the lung, or unlike the common flu, what you’re seeing in this video is really the widespread damage to the lung, and you can see in vivid color how it affects not only both lungs, but many different parts of both lungs,” said Mortman.

You can view the virtual reality rendering in its entirety by clicking here.

“What you’re seeing in the video, essentially the blue part is the more normal lung, but anything you’re seeing that’s yellow is lung that’s being destroyed by the virus,” said Mortman. “One of the big problems is it’s really a one-two punch. So it starts with the initial insult from the virus, but then the body’s way of trying to contain it is by creating inflammation, by trying to surround it in a sense. So what you’re seeing in yellow is both viral infection as well as inflammation in the lungs. And it’s that one-two punch, that’s why far too many of these patients have trouble with their breathing or getting short of breath. And that’s a symptom that can come on quite rapidly to the point where some of these patients require hospital admission, being put on a breathing tube, or being put on a ventilator.”

Mortman feels the images hold a powerful message for members of the public.

“It’s really to educate them. So for those people out there who are still not heeding the warnings, not staying home, not taking precautions, not washing their hands – I really want them to be able to see this and understand the damage that’s being done to the lungs and the severity of the disease that this is causing. And why it’s so important that we all take these precautions,” he said. “This is really a community problem and it’s going to take a community effort to solve it.”

Mortman had previously used this virtual reality technology with cancer patients.

“I’ve partnered with a company called Surgical Theater for approximately five years, they are the makers of this software,” he said. “So for the past five years, we’ve been using this in our outpatient clinic to demonstrate to the patients, most commonly cancer patients, so they can see their lung tumor or esophageal tumor.”

Now, he hopes the technology can provide help to both doctors and patients with a new perspective on COVID-19.

“I think we’re at the point now where any little piece of information we have could be helpful, either for that patient or the next patient,” said Mortman. “As far as we are aware, this is the first-ever 360-degree, virtual reality reconstruction of the damage that is done to the lungs from this virus.”


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