NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Old Dominion University and the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters have teamed up to develop a virtual reality tool that’s helping kids with chest deformities.

It’s like a colorful 3D map that encourages young patients to comply with their at-home treatment regimens.

15-year-old Dylan Thiessen showed what that entails.  “You just pump it up.” He puts a large round disc on his chest called a vacuum bell, and wears it two hours, twice a day per doctor’s orders.

“A suction cup pulls the chest wall out like a body shop suction cup pulls a dent right out of a car,” explained Dr. Robert Kelly, of the Nuss Center at CHKD.

But unlike a car young patients, like Dylan, can resist wearing it. “Honestly I wasn’t convinced it was bringing out my chest that much,” he said.

Dylan was convinced he would need surgery, but then he came into CHKD and got the 3D scan developed by Rick McKenzie’s team at ODU.

“It’s sort of like a contour map like you would see a map of a geographic region,” McKenzie told

The virtual reality tool precisely measures the patient’s chest.

“Before we had to use a ruler and a dowl to see how deep the depression was” Dr. Kelly said. The scan is much more accurate and encouraging for patient and parents.

Dylan’s Dad, Alan Thiessen, said, “I very much like that scientific overlay of being able to see, OK here’s, you know, it was 24 millimeters originally and now it’s down to 9 or whatever the numbers are.”

“It really made me realize there’s a very good possibility that I don’t have to do the surgery which is awesome,” Dylan said. 

Now he sees his progress every time he visits the doctor and…  “We’re working on a home version of this that they’ll be able to take home — you’re giving away all our trick here, ” laughed McKenzie.

That could mean motivation for hundreds of kids across the county.

One in every 400 kids will be diagnosed with a sunken chest, about 200,000 a year.
The technology can also be used to track progress in patients with a protruding chest.
about one in 400 is diagnosed with that condition as well.