An international team of surgeons successfully separated two, three-year-old twins conjoined at the head, thanks in large part to months spent preparing in virtual reality simulations.
The twins, who had shared vital veins in their brains, underwent seven surgeries involving nearly 100 medical staff. The final surgery alone took more than 27 hours, Insider notes, though surgeons had already spent countless more hours preparing in VR. Alive and well, the two boys are now the oldest children to have survived the complex separation procedure.
Aside from the sheer amount of hours of preparation VR simulations provide, the technology also let surgeons in Brazil work cross-continentally with a medical team in the United Kingdom. Gemini Untwined, a charity responsible for funding the operation, said this was the first time VR was used for such a complex surgery in Brazil. Noor ul Owase Jeelani, one of the surgeons involved, equated the technology to, “space-age stuff” in a recent interview with the BBC.
“Not only have we provided a new future for the boys and their family, we have equipped the local team with the capabilities and confidence to undertake such complex work successfully again in the future,” Jeelani said in a statement.
The surgeon and his team reportedly powered through the final 27-hour surgery, taking just four, fifteen-minute breaks for food and water. The previous prep time in VR had essentially allowed the medical staff to see the boys’ anatomy and perform surgery without actually harming the children.
“In some ways these operations are considered the hardest of our time, and to do it in virtual reality was just really man-on-Mars stuff,” Jeelani said according to the BBC. The twins are reportedly recovering well from the surgery.
With all of this talk of esoteric, sexless metaverses, and mostly lame games sucking up most of the oxygen in the virtual reality space, it’s easy to gloss over some of VR’s most relevant, currently available use cases. Surgeons, firefights, pilots, oil barrack workers, and even police have all spent years using the tech for training purposes.