Outfitted with a headset and controller, 12-year-old Tommy Peachock sat cross-legged on his hospital bed and floated through a bright, blue sea. His head swiveled side to side, up and down, as he watched whales and dolphins swim up to him.
It was Tommy’s first experience with virtual reality (VR), a technology that’s finding new and varied uses in medical settings.
Akron Children’s Hospital landed 6 units in August from KindVR, a California company. KindVR works with a number of hospitals researching various medical uses of VR. The goal is to help distract and calm young patients who are in pain or facing medical procedures.
Research has shown that VR distraction is effective at reducing pain. More studies are underway to see if VR is valuable in different hospital settings like emergency rooms and before surgery.
Tommy is a leukemia patient of the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. He was hospitalized recently after spiking a fever. His family is from Hubbard in Trumbull County.
Tommy was dressed and ready to go home on this morning.
With his mother Sharon watching, hospital volunteer Jessica Benson slipped an Android phone into the headset, showed Tommy the controller and started the KindVR Aqua program.
With his controller, Tommy blew virtual bubbles at sea creatures and objects, which turned them into rainbow colors. Tommy was absorbed in the 15-minute underwater journey.
About halfway through, he broke silence. “There’s a seal in front of me,” he called out.
Acquiring VR units was Jessica’s idea. A former substitute schoolteacher, she is enthusiastic about VR, pointing out that it helps reduce pain and thus reliance painkillers. She spreads the virtues of VR every chance she gets. (Read the full story on the Akron Children's Hospital website)