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Video game synced with anesthesia administration eases surgery stress for kids


Going through surgery and anesthesia can be a stressful experience for anyone, especially kids. Thanks to a team at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford led by pediatric anesthesiologists Thomas Caruso, MD, and Sam Rodriguez, MD, a new interactive video game is engaging young patients prior to surgery to help ease the anxiety that many feel before a procedure.

As we've written about here before, Caruso and Rodriguez introduced Bedside Entertainment Theater, or BERT, in 2015, which allows patients to watch movies and other entertainment on a screen attached to their gurney up to the moment they fall asleep in the OR. Their latest creation, developed in partnership with Stanford-affiliated software engineer Joseph Lang, is a video game called "Sevo the Dragon," which is synced with the administration of anesthesia.

A recent blog post from the hospital explains how it works:

The interactive experience takes a necessary part of anesthesia — breathing anesthesia medicine through a mask to fall asleep — and transforms it into a fun game that can be played on a tablet or projected on the BERT screen. Patients begin the game by selecting a dragon avatar and choosing a food for the dragon to 'cook' using his fire breath. As patients breathe into the anesthesia mask, the onscreen dragon breathes fire onto the food — be it pizza, tacos or cake — to heat it up. Anesthesiologists use cues like 'one, two, three, RAWR!' to coach patients with their breathing as anesthesia gases are slowly administered through the mask until the patient falls asleep.

The video above, which was produced by the CHARIOT — Childhood Anxiety Reduction through Innovation and Technology program at Packard Children’s, led by Caruso and Rodriguez, demonstrates the game in use.

“Our goal is to engage children in play that flexes their imagination during the key moments prior to surgery to minimize attention to stressful stimuli around them and increase cooperation,” Rodriguez explains.

The "Sevo the Dragon" game is in its early stages of rollout in the Packard Children’s perioperative unit, and is on track to become available to all patients undergoing anesthesia by this summer.

Previously: A closer look at a Stanford Children's Health program that benefits children before surgery and Packard Children's anesthesiologists invent safe, fun way to distract children before surgery
Photo and video courtesy of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

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