CHICAGO — It’s an idea pediatric care teams have embraced — using familiar technology to help young patients feel at home in the hospital. But there’s a greater purpose — and person — behind the program at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Ramiro Martinez, 19, has been at Lurie Children’s for seven months.
“I’m here waiting for a heart transplant,” he said.
It will be his second. The organ he received in 2012 is failing.
While he waits, he games. Wired to a heart monitor, he passes the time hooked up to a virtual reality system.
“The VR headset is definitely a plus,” he said. “To be able to do that (and) kind of escape from reality.”
Shane Rafferty is the patient technology specialist at Lurie Children’s.
“Kids, when they are in the hospital, most of what they are doing day-to-day (is) their doctors are talking to them about being sick, nurses, medicine, rehab services — all focused on why they are at the hospital,” he said. “11-year-old me, if I went back in time and told him, ‘Hey, you get to play video games for a living.’ He’d be like, ‘No way!’ So that’s pretty cool that’s what I ended up doing.”
The new role was funded by Child’s Play, a game industry charity that works with healthcare facilities across the country to help patients reduce stress and anxiety.
I’m the guy that’s wheeling around the fun stuff, but I think I’ve def built relationships with our families,” Rafferty said. “When patients are on a VR, there’s usually like 15 seconds in there’s one step of immersion … that has some interaction. But within five minutes our brains are actually 100% focused on that virtual experience. So you can be interacting with someone, doing a dressing change or IV stick and they are aware it’s going on.”
Dr. John Fortunato is a gastroenterologist at Lurie Children’s.
“Reducing stress, even in those circumstances, does have a meaningful impact in terms of outcomes and functionality and even reducing disability,” he said.
Rafferty will visit patients.
“If you want someone to talk with games hang out, I’ll even just watch you play games as someone to keep you company,” he said. “We recently just got a 3D printer, so that was a lot of research figuring out which one is good for this setting and what can we do with it.”
They can make a plastic spiderman or print adaptive equipment parts. Rafferty keeps track of all the tech, but the connections he makes have the most significant impact.
“College can’t happen and I can’t go to parties, but life isn’t on hold because I still get to do stuff and make friends with Shane,” Martinez said. “And have that sense of camaraderie that lightens up the mood here a little bit.”
“Being that resource for them is a very rewarding component on top of playing video games for a living,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty would like to expand the program and use virtual reality to simulate specific medical procedures to help familiarize patients and ease anxiety.