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How VCU Health Surgeons Saved a College Student’s Life with the Help of Augmented Reality

Aldrin Castillo, a college student of Fredericksburg, was nonchalant about his chest pain and fatigue that he used to experience back in 2017. Obviously, he had no idea that there was a tumor in his heart’s left atrium, and it was expanding deep into the heart. Surprisingly, at that very time, a surgeon and a pharmacy researcher were talking to each other at VCU Health on the MCV Campus. Little did they know that the idea they were having would help to save Castillo’s life later.

A fruitful lunch encounter
A conversation was going on between Dayajan ‘Shanaka’ Wijesinghe, who is a Ph.D. and an assistant professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy, and Dr. Vigneshwar Kasirajan, who is the chair in the Department of Surgery at the VCU School of Medicine at the faculty lounge at VCU Medical Center.
Wijesinghe had said that he makes use of augmented reality in his lab in order to transform 2-D models into interactive 3-D representations. Right after this, Kasirajan came up with the idea that he and his colleagues might be able to fit in this technology in surgery since they normally analyze flat CT images before operating.

Wijesinghe had later said that though he had never before thought about implementing augmented reality in surgeries as that is not his forte, then he thought to himself about the probability of incorporating the augmented reality.

Wijesinghe started working with Ali Panahi from the College of Engineering and Vasco Miguel Pontinha from the School of Pharmacy for creating a tool that would change the 2-D CT scans into 3-D images. These could be used by the surgeons before proceeding with an operation. They collaborated with Dr. Dan Tang, who is a surgeon and a professor at the VCU School of Medicine, to know in detail about the kinds of information required by a surgeon in anatomical models.

Castillo’s cardiac sarcoma was situated in such a difficult position that it was almost placed right in the middle of the heart and could not be penetrated. However, the 3-D model helped Tang and his team to get an image of his entire heart, remove the needed parts, and get a view of the tumor from all angles before beginning the surgery.

According to Wijesinghe, such an advanced stage of medical help will not take place in a basic research organization and these kinds of exchange of creative ideas are needed more for everyone’s betterment. Such an unique type of partnership that had resulted in collision of experts is only possible at an academic health center like VCU Health.

Castillo never missed a step in the way of pursuing his dream! He is cancer free now and is a certified nursing assistant in Fredericksburg. He wants to continue with his studies for becoming a physician’s assistant after being a nurse. He thanks Dr. Tang for curing him and wants to have a family in the future.


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