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Virtual Reality Eases Kids' Cancer Care

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health


Dr. Emad Salman and PatientDr. Emad Salman cares for a young patient recently.

For children with cancer, a new treatment that uses virtual reality (VR) technology makes their chemotherapy treatment less scary.

While patients sit in their infusion chair getting treatment, they can play among the stars in outer space, swim among the fish at a sunken ship in the sea or relax to the calm sounds of ocean waves lapping the beach.

The totally immersive virtual reality chemotherapy room is the brainchild of Dr. Emad Salman, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Dr. Salman wanted to make the experience of chemotherapy less stressful for children and young adults. Chemotherapy infusion and radiation sessions can last for hours or even a full day, and passing the time is difficult for young ones. The treatment also benefits kids with blood disorders other than cancer.

(Watch this video about the total immersion room featured on WINK News.)

Kids Taking Control

Children in pediatric facilities undergo necessary yet painful and distressing procedures, but managing their pain and anxiety remains a challenge. Studies of VR technology in the healthcare setting have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing pain and distress in children undergoing invasive procedures.

“Treatment can be very stressful for a child,” Dr. Salman says. “Obviously, we have to use a needle to access their port or put in an IV, in some cases. That hurts, so there is a level of anxiety and pain. The immersion room offers a distraction that helps lower their anxiety level.”

In addition to choosing different VR scenes, children can also use the room to watch movies, play video games or video chat with friends and family while receiving their treatment. The immersion room helps patients forget the matters at hand and gives them some control by allowing them to choose their environment.

By taking control of the remote, they can make their own decisions about how to spend their treatment time. Everything is controlled through an iPad and video game controller.

The 270-degree, floor-to-ceiling room for chemotherapy is the first of its kind in the country.


A look at the immersion room.

'Continue Their Fun'

Anthony DeBono III, founder of d3 Creative Studio in Fort Myers, took the vision of Dr. Salman and his Lee Health team and made it a reality, from creative design to final implementation.

“We’re helping kids be kids at a time when they need it the most, by allowing them to escape reality in one of the scenes, or pass the time playing VR video games, or watching movies on a giant virtual screen,” DeBono says.

The immersion room, which debuted in April, is a hit, he says.

“The feedback has been very positive. Kids love it,” Dr. Salman says. “When it’s time for some of them to leave, most don’t want to go home. They want to stay in the immersion room to continue their fun.”

Plus, he adds, parents are less stressed knowing their child is occupied and entertained during treatments.

Donors Can Help

Tammy Wilbur, a hematology/oncology nurse with Lee Health, says the immersion room adds a new element of fun and distraction.

“The kids love this,” Tammy says. “Whether our patients are 2 years old or 30 years old, the immersion room puts them at ease.” She adds with a laugh, “The biggest challenge is going to be getting the kids to leave the immersion room. I think there will be competition for who gets that room and how often they want to be in it.”

Thanks to generous supporters, the immersion room will be an important part of treatment at Golisano. Plans to expand to other locations are in the works.

The immersion room has yet to be adopted by a donor. If you are interested in learning more about adopting this wonderful, one-of-a-kind technology that’s improving children’s treatment, contact [email protected] at the Lee Health Foundation.

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