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Virtual Reality Provides Kids with Non-Virtual Pain Relief

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

When children arrive for an operation at Assuta Ashdod hospital, it’s safe to say most are justifiably scared of what awaits them.

Whether it's just getting tonsils out or something more serious, children don’t have the life experience to properly judge the routine nature of most surgeries. That’s why children’s hospital waiting rooms are also sometimes called “the crying room”.

When Roi Taraslov, the head nurse in the obstetrics operating room at Assuta Ashdod, noticed the childrens’ trembling and palpable fear as they awaited procedures, he resolved to support them and began searching for a solution.

He turned to his community and learned that a physical therapist colleague here in Israel was using virtual reality (VR) headsets in her practice. This professional would ask, for instance, patients with shoulder injuries, to climb a virtual wall as part of their rehabilitation. The VR experience helped them power through their pain.

Armed with new options to comfort, calm and distract pre-operative children, Roi proposed the new tech and Assuta Ashdod was “game”.

“With the new VR setup, we saw an instant change in the kids’ behavior,” says Roi, a Kiryat Gat native who has been with Assuta Ashdod for the past five years. “They quickly become immersed in what they’re viewing and experiencing in VR, and forget their fears. It worked wonders.”

That’s exactly what happened to Benny Schwartz’s son as the family awaited hand surgery for the young boy. Days before, he had broken his finger on the basketball court while catching a pass. Now, as he awaited local anesthesia, an Assuta Ashdod staff member handed him a laptop and VR glasses and his adventure began.

“While we were full of trepidation and tears, he sat there, pre-surgery, happily selecting what he was going to watch – he chose Spiderman,” recalls Schwartz. “He had a great time leading right up to the surgery. No fear, no fighting, and he went under general anesthesia easily.

A few days later, Assuta Ashdod staff called Schwartz to find out how his son was feeling. “The hospital is incredible,” Schwartz says, “especially regarding how they deal with children.”

The head of the hospital’s operating room, Zafrir Eshel, and the head of the hospital’s entire nursing division, Inbal Amit, also endorse the use of VR at Assuta Ashdod. According to Roi, the hospital plans to test the headsets on older patients in the coming months and may even try them on those undergoing operations that don’t require general anesthesia.

“As the technology improves, the ability to dissociate from our surroundings may provide a real benefit to people in painful situations,” Roi says. “For now, I’m just happy to bring a smile to a child’s face.”


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