Patients experience virtual reality adventures

Sitting in a large diving cage, David Henry sinks further down into the ocean with a steady stream of bubbles coming from his regulator. He passes by vibrant coral reefs and then a bloom of jellyfish surround him. But David has no fear of being stung.

David isn’t even near the ocean. Thanks to a mobile virtual reality cart, affectionately called On-The-Spot Getaway, he is enjoying the experience of a deep-sea dive right from his wheelchair in the Misericordia Community Hospital.

“I can honestly say it was soothing, it was nice,” he says after his deep sea experience. 

“I can see the therapeutic benefit of this stuff,” says David, who was in the hospital for several weeks after having his leg amputated following a staph infection.

The use of virtual reality goes much further than video games these days. Research shows the technology can reduce people’s feelings of pain and anxiety, and can help improve rehabilitation. 

“Most of our patients have a lot of pain and they are distressed because they have fallen or they are concerned about if they will be able to go home, so it helps distract them from the pain and from what’s going on in their lives,” says Deb Chalupa, Unit Manager of orthopedics at the Misericordia Hospital.

The virtual reality experience is possible thanks to Ryan Brown, who volunteers at the hospital twice a month. Ryan got the inspiration for a mobile virtual reality cart after he brought it in for his grandfather, who was a patient on the unit. His grandfather enjoyed his experience so much, he suggested Ryan should bring it in for every patient in orthopedics. 

“It really does trick your senses into feeling like you’re not here, so we have called it On-The-Spot Getaway because it feels like you get a bit of a vacation even though you haven’t left your bed,” says Ryan.

Ryan with his children, William and Madeline

Ryan began volunteering at the hospital in 2018, spending about $1,500 to purchase equipment. He also designed a cart to fit into the smallest areas of the hospital.

His two kids, William, 7, and Madeline, 5, also join him. As the trio travel from room to room, they get to see the joy and excitement of watching others experience adventures, ranging from diving in the ocean to riding dinosaurs in prehistoric times.  

Although there are closer hospitals to Ryan, he chose to volunteer at the Misericordia. “One of the reasons we chose this hospital was because of my dad. He worked here as an emergency physician for 39 years, and I was born in this hospital as well, so there is a special connection for my family at this hospital."

For David, being able to experience virtual reality was a welcome break. He believes On-The-Spot-Getaway is helpful, particularly for patients who are in the hospital for an extended time. After his month-long stay, he loved being able to travel to an exotic destination.  

 “Now I want to try as many environments as possible. I can honestly say the experience was wonderful.” 

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