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Virtual Reality Helps Kids Cope at Golisano Children's Hospital

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health



If that seems like a lot of letters for you to process and understand, imagine hearing all of those as a child.

But that’s what one particular patient at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida hears on a regular basis during his hospital visits.

When you are 9 years old and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a port placement is a common part of your treatment plan to receive the necessary medications to fight cancer.

Having two ports placed? Not so common. But it’s necessary in Sebastian’s case. Over the past two months of treatment Sebastian has had a “port access” once a week -- for a total of eight accesses.

But don’t forget the part where he has two ports, bringing the grand total to 16 port pokes in just two months.

And up until last week, he struggled to cope with this procedure -- crying, shaking, verbalizing his fear, despite his nurses and child life specialist trying to provide comfort or engage him in play.

All of this was something Shane Swartz, Golisano’s digital media specialist, saw when he had to pause one of his gaming sessions with Sebastian for this procedure.

Swartz often uses virtual reality headsets to engage Sebastian in gaming and help to make the hospital a little more normal and fun. But when Swartz saw Sebastian’s reaction to the port access, he remembered a study where VR had shown the ability to reduce stress and anxiety during procedures.

Swartz got the go-ahead from the patient’s care team to try the VR system for procedural support for the first time at Golisano. He spent an hour with Sebastian before his next port access, practicing with the headset’s relaxation environment, before he was ready to give it a try.

Nurses positioned themselves on each side of the bed to access each port at the same time, and Swartz was at the head of the bed with the VR headset. The only sound that Sebastian heard during the access was the voice of Tara Hudson, child life specialist, explaining each step of the procedure as it happened.

Once he heard the “all done” statement given, Sebastian pulled off the headset to reveal a huge smile: “I did it! I did really good, guys! I didn’t even cry.”

And with one change to his procedure plan, Sebastian’s coping continues to improve with each visit and each port access. You’ll often see him at the end of an appointment telling another staff member “I did it again! I did so good with my port access,” with the biggest smile and feeling of accomplishment.

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