Six-year-old Nathan Neisinger suffered serious burns when he accidentally pulled a pot of boiling water onto himself.
"He had third degree burns and they were over 31 percent of his body," says his mother, Heidi. "His whole entire chest, his back, his legs, part of his foot, had third degree burns all over them. They had to do skin grafting; they had to take skin off of his behind, off of the back of his legs."
Besides skin grafts, Nathan has endured months of wound care and more pain than safe doses of narcotics can alleviate. "The care is very often more painful than the injury itself," says David Patterson, a psychologist and pain expert at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Nathan spent 51 days after being airlifted there for his injuries. "Typical care involves removing bandages and then scrubbing the wound, and for some patients, you do that once or twice a day, for days, weeks, and even months."
there was the physical therapy to stretch his scarred skin. "The
actual process of going through that physical therapy is often very extensive,"
says Patterson. "You can hear some ripping and cracking. It can be
anxiety-producing to anyone, much less a six-year-old."
"SnowWorld is the first virtual environment that was specifically designed for treating burn patients," explains Hoffman. "We made snowflakes, snowmen, igloos, robots, [and] penguins, and you hear this soothing music. The idea is to help the patients take their mind off of their pain. The nice thing about SnowWorld is, all these images of cold hopefully counteract the fires of their burn pain."
"What we're really trying to do is just to pull his attention away from what's happening in the therapy, to put his attention in the virtual world, and by virtue of that, have him experience less pain," adds Patterson.
studies with patients like Nathan are showing how effective virtual reality
is at fighting burn pain. In an article in Scientific American, Hoffman
described how they used a special virtual reality helmet that would work
in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to confirm this. The team
studied five regions of the brain that are known to be associated with
pain processing. "We found that all five regions showed significant
reductions, and the amount of reductions during VR, the amount of reductions
in pain-related brain activity, ranged from 50 percent to 97 percent,"
says Hoffman. "The incoming pain signal is not even being processed
during VR. There's much less pain being processed by the brain when the
person's in VR."
Neisinger says she feels lucky that her son gets to experience SnowWorld. "He had to go through a lot of pain which was really hard on him, but that's where the virtual reality is good, because he was able to put that on and get his mind off of it when he was playing virtual reality," she says. "Your ears also are hearing what virtual reality is going on, they're not hearing the discussion between the nurses and doctors, so that helps a lotyou're not hearing what they're gonna do to you."
Patterson, whose creations are also being used for people with phobias
and post-traumatic stress disorder, hope virtual reality will soon be
available to help many more patients' brains escape their real pain. This
research appears in the August, 2004 issue of Scientific American, and
the clinical study was published in the June, 2004 issue of NeuroReport.
It was funded by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, and the National
Institutes of Health.
Source: ScieCentral News
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