'Pokemon' surgery uses virtual reality images to aid doctors

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A New York City police officer is lucky to be alive an old-fashioned brain injury was treated with a newfangled technology.

And Surgical Theater, doctors say, is not unlike the craze of the new Pokemon Go game.

Todd Szebenyi is living proof there is life from virtual reality.

The 41-year old NYPD detective nearly collapsed at the gym with painful headaches, and doctors later found an arteriovenous malformation -- or a tangle of blood vessels in his brain. One small one had burst.
"They just said this possibly might happen again, and we have to fix it," he said. "When they found it, I said let's do the surgery."

Szebenyi put his life into the hands of Dr. Joshua Bederson, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery for the Mount Sinai health system.

"Our surgery has to be aimed to get to this area without damaging these other structures," Dr. Bederson said. "With our goal being to remove this connection but not damage this artery that's feeding the rest of his brain."

Bederson is also a proponent of the new virtual reality technology used during the surgery.

"These images were obtained by combining an MRI, a Cat-scan and an Angiogram," Dr. Bederson said.

The 3-D images can then be superimposed or placed directly into the eyepiece of a microscope during the surgery, and the virtual reality imaging is overlaid onto the brain when viewed through the eyepiece.
"Instead of having to remember what you saw on the X-ray and reflect that back on your knowledge of neuroanatomy, you combine all that with what you are looking at while you're operating," Dr. Bederson said.

The new technology is similar to how you might see a Pokemon Go character appear on a real sidewalk or street corner.

"We are kind of doing the reverse," he said. "In this case, the Pokemon figure is going to be our malformation, and we want to find out where that is in relation to our anatomy.

Szebenyi believes other patients could benefit from this kind of imaging, and his wife Patricia agreed.

"We're thrilled that we did it, and we don't have to worry about it anymore," she said. "We can put it behind us and move on."

Editor's note: Dr. Bederson disclosed that he has financial interest in Surgical Theater, which is featured in this story.
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