3, 2, 1… live! The children were sitting in big purple chairs staring at the giant screen. All of a sudden, two young women smiled and extended an enthusiastic hello to the young audience. They were broadcasting live from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the background you could see a replica of the Mars Curiosity Rover. In the audience were children receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer at the Pediatric Oncology floor of the new Miami Cancer Institute. The room is called the Infusionarium, a creation of an ex Disney Imagineer and a Pediatric Oncologist that gives the cancer treatment process for children and teens a big warm smiley face.
Chemotherapy treatment can be a traumatic experience for adults, imagine for kids. Children are sitting for hours with a needle inserted and are attached to a bag of fluids for hours at a time.
The Infusionarium was created to change that perception. It doesn’t look at all like a hospital room with its bright colors and giant screen. It looks more like it belongs in a theme park but the main purpose is to use these technologies to offer kids experiences that allow them to feel better while they are waiting patiently and being treated.
The giant screen allows for an immersive live experience where the kids can ask questions and interact with their hosts in an environment that promotes healing. Think about it, using this technology, kids no longer feel like they are taking chemo, they can feel like they are anywhere in the world. These cool and immersive healing experiences take the young patients on a virtual tour to places that inspire and entertain them as they are being treated. In just a few minutes, kids can go from feeling anxious about their treatment to being distracted while learning about space or another topic of interest.
“This is something that helps the children have less nausea during treatment. The families tell me their children want to come in to get their chemotherapy!” said Doured Daghistani, M.D. Medical Director, Pediatric Oncology for Miami Cancer Institute.
So far, the young patients at the Miami Cancer Institute have shared live experiences with Ron Magill, the wildlife expert from Zoo Miami where he showed a Eurasian eagle-owl, a baby alligator, Fat Boy; a rhinoceros Iguana and Slither; a giant yellow Burmese python that took 3 people to even handle. The kids were ecstatic throughout the whole session and it looked like they had just as much fun as visiting the zoo at that very moment.
I visited the interactive session where Dr. Moo Cooper, a planetary protection engineer and Amanda Steffy, a system engineer for the Mars Curiosity Rover connected live from Pasadena, California to talk about the rover and all the cool science that made it possible. They told the story of how the rover was sent to the red planet, the challenges of the trip and even how they had to redesign the wheels so the rover could traverse the rugged Martian terrain. The kids were interested in the coolest parts of their jobs and asked a lot of great questions. All along, they were probing the kids for questions and interacted with them in a fun-filled session that nor they or their parents and relatives in the room will soon forget.