Patients at MGH Escape Reality Through Virtual Reality

From art programs to therapy dogs, doctors and nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital are always looking for ways to distract sick children — and a new high-tech experience may be the ultimate escape. A new 3D art adventure at the hospital is a form of virtual reality that is helping some of their youngest patients heal.

The experience was created by a strategic marketing agency called White Rhino. They first hosted the WonderLab program for patients at MassGeneral Hospital for Children back in December. Leo Larocque of North Attleboro was back to try it again on Friday.

Larocque was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. He is missing part of his leg and has lost his hair, but none of that matters when he enters the virtual world. All he needs is the gear.

“It makes me feel like I’m actually moving when I have the controllers,” Larocque said. “It feels like my body is actually moving and it takes my leg pain away.”

“It’s like he’s not in a wheelchair,” his mom Heather Ripley said. “He’s actually wherever he is, whether he’s in a spaceship, in a galaxy or painting his name in the stars.”

These are benefits the creators got to see up close when they brought the technology to MGH, where they had the chance to blend their twin passions of virtual reality and helping people.

“In some cases, it’s been shown to be twice as effective as morphine,” CEO and Chief Creative Officer of White Rhino Dan Greenwald said. “One parent said she hadn’t seen her daughter laugh in 12 days, so that really touched me and made me feel like it was all worth it.”

Those who work at MassGeneral said the virtual reality is just one of many distractions they try to provide knowing they are often the best medicine.

“It’s absolutely a healing process,” Nursing Director of Pediatrics Lori Pugsley said. “Laughter and joy really trigger that healing response so we’re not only treating them clinically, we are treating them as a whole.”

The team at White Rhino said the virtual reality experience has been so successful they hope to bring it to more hospitals in the future.

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