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CHICAGO — Gaming technology has entered the operating room. A local doctor is using augmented reality to sharpen his visuals during spine procedures. He says it’s a game changer. 

Dr Frank Phillips has a new tool on his belt and it includes a headset.

“It’s a natural extension of all these video games and virtual reality – or augmented reality,” he said.  “It’s going to be used in the operating room.”

But spine surgery is no game. Every move counts. 

Surgeons regularly rely on intra-operative x-rays, CT scans and navigation systems to help guide their procedures. But Phillips said this system — which uses augmented reality — is next level.

“What it provides is the ability to incorporate all these enabling technologies,” he said “So when you look through the head set looking down at the patient’s back, you get the CT images that we’re used to from navigation. And then it at the same time it projects an augmented 3-dimensional view of the spine. So you’re actually through the skin looking at the spine. I’s truly x-ray vision.” 

Called Xvision, the system allows the Midwest Orthopedics at Rush surgeon to see the patient’s spine image in a heads-up display — meaning in his field of vision. He doesn’t have to turn away to view the anatomy on a separate monitor. 

“The augmented reality system is really game changing,” Phillips said. “It really gives you the best of all worlds.”

He practiced on cadaver models before using the technology on Honaire Murillo in mid-June.

“He explained it, ‘I got this cool technology.’ And I go ‘Sure! Whatever it’s going to take,’” Murillo said.  

It wasn’t Murillo‘s first procedure. She’s had 23 surgeries since she was hit by a speed boat in 1996. The accident destroyed her upper leg and left her with several broken ribs and an unstable spine.

“I have pain going down both legs. I have numbness and tingling in both legs,” she said. “So it was at the point where I couldn’t walk. I was stumbling a lot and tripping and falling down stairs. I knew I needed something more. I just couldn’t live like that.”

Her latest procedure was a minimally invasive, multi-level spinal fusion using the augmented reality system. 

“In the hospital all the doctors came in like, ‘You’ve got to see this!’” she said.  “everybody was coming up. this was so cool. Everybody was so excited which made me excited too.”

The 51-year-old is walking regularly as part of her recovery and she said she feels a sense of pride knowing she was among the very first patients to help launch a new generation of tech in surgery.

“I’ve been through so much and I feel like if this is anything I can do to help give back a little bit, or if it can help progress it, it’s going to help everybody else as well,” she said. “So I’m really excited for it too because being in pain like that and suffering like that is a horrible experience. Nobody wants to go through that.”

Phillips said virtual reality will ultimately provide real benefits to patients.

“Being more efficient, quicker, more accurate, less muscle damage, because we are more precise in placing all these instruments,” he said. “I think it will add real benefits to patients and patient care. I think it’s the future of surgery.”

Phillips believes the advanced gaming technology will eventually be applied to a range of surgeries not just spine procedures.