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Video Game Technology and Surgical Expertise Meet in Groundbreaking Tool at Stanford Children’s Health to Help Parents Understand Complex Heart Repair

One of the most complex birth defects of the heart—and one of the most challenging to repair—can now be easily understood through a groundbreaking, video-game-like graphic now available on the Stanford Children’s Health website. It’s the first in a series called “Moving Medicine: An Interactive 3-D Look at Conditions and Treatments.”

Parents and physicians can use the animated, three-dimensional tool to better understand and communicate about a child’s condition and treatment, and amateurs can try their hand at a shortened version of the complex repair, which may take a surgical team up to 12 hours to complete.

The interactive graphic focuses on a life-threatening congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia and major aortopulmonary collateral arteries (or MAPCAs), in which patients are born missing part or all of a major blood vessel that connects the heart to the lungs. That vessel, called the pulmonary artery, is critical because it delivers de-oxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs, where the blood gets a fresh supply of oxygen. Without the pulmonary artery, the circulatory system can’t get a normal amount of oxygen out to the body through the blood.

Frank Hanley, MD, executive director of the Heart Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, provided some of the medical expertise for the interactive graphic. Hanley has the highest known surgical success rate—above 98 percent—in repairing the heart defect using an approach he developed called unifocalization.

Other participating Stanford Medicine experts were Stephen Roth, MD, MPH, chief of pediatric cardiology and professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, and Lynn Peng, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and associate director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. They worked with David Sarno, the principal at Lighthaus Inc., which specializes in interactive digital storytelling, to demystify the complex surgery. Sarno observed Hanley and his team during a full-length unifocalization procedure. He then guided a team of designers, artists and game developers to create an active model of a living, pumping heart that viewers can explore and interact with onscreen.

“It turns out that the same technology the multibillion-dollar game industry uses to conjure alien planets or historical battlefields works beautifully for re-creating and exploring the inside of the human body,” Sarno says. “It’s an inner world that’s still mysterious to many of us, and we hope that illuminating it will help families better understand life-changing medical procedures.”

The interactive graphic takes users through three chapters: the healthy heart, the defect and the repair, and is narrated by Hanley, Roth and Peng. At any time, users can click on the graphic for glossary descriptions of the heart, or drag and swivel the graphic 360 degrees to see every aspect of the heart and blood vessels.

“Even today, at hospitals across the United States, parents are given the heartbreaking news that their child has this birth defect and may not survive,” says Hanley. “We hope that this interactive tool on our website will give physicians and families everywhere a better, clearer understanding of the defect, and a tool for discussing what’s required to fix it—and also the comfort that comes from knowing that in most cases it absolutely can be fixed, and that their child can go on to live a fulfilling life.”

Since 2001, Hanley and team have performed more than 530 unifocalization procedures at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, with patients traveling from 38 U.S. states and eight foreign countries. The new interactive animation will be a regular part of each patient-family’s orientation prior to them coming to the hospital for the procedure.

“As a Silicon Valley hospital, we are fortunate to have forward-thinking innovators working in our hospital and also right down the street,” says Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “We’re always collaborating to see how we might apply medical and technical advances not only to treatments for the riskiest diseases, but also to helping families, physicians and the public understand these diseases and how we uniquely care for them.”

Discover more about our Heart Center or call (800) 721-5470.

About Stanford Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

Stanford Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its core, is an internationally recognized leader in world-class, nurturing care and extraordinary outcomes in every pediatric and obstetric specialty from the routine to rare, for every child and pregnant woman. Together with our Stanford Medicine physicians, nurses, and staff, we deliver this innovative care and research through partnerships, collaborations, outreach, specialty clinics and primary care practices at more than 100 locations in the U.S. western region. As a non-profit, we are committed to supporting our community – from caring for uninsured or underinsured kids, homeless teens and pregnant moms, to helping re-establish school nurse positions in local schools. Learn more about our full range of preeminent programs and network of care at stanfordchildrens.org, and on our Healthier, Happy Lives blog. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is the heart of Stanford Children’s Health, and is one of the nation’s top hospitals for the care of children and expectant mothers. For a decade, we have received the highest specialty rankings of any Northern California children’s hospital, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospitals survey, and are the only hospital in Northern California to receive the national 2013 Leapfrog Group Top Children’s Hospital award for quality and patient care safety. Discover more at stanfordchildrens.org.

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