Newswise — ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Sick kids will get to visit the Big House without leaving their rooms at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, thanks to the foundation named after University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.
They may also hang out with dinosaurs, ride roller coasters or even visit the moon.
These are just some of the types of experiences made possible by the new Harbaugh Fund announced on Michigan’s Giving Blue Day. Created by a $50,000 seed donation from the Harbaugh Foundation, the new fund will support activities led by the hospital’s Child and Family Life team.
First project on the list: Virtual reality viewers for every young patient.
The viewers work by sliding in a smartphone and turning on virtual reality apps through the phone. Kids will be encouraged to try many experiences, including heading to the Big House to see what a typical game day is like.
Through the Michigan VR app created by University of Michigan Athletics last year, young patients can follow the Wolverines through the tunnel and into Michigan Stadium, mingle with the band and cheerleaders and even join the team in the locker room for a pep talk from coach Harbaugh himself.
“The Jim Harbaugh Foundation is thrilled to support the Child and Family Life team at Mott Children’s,” says Sarah Harbaugh, who along with her husband Jim is a co-chair of the Victors for Michigan National Campaign Leadership Council for Mott and Von Voigtlander Hospital.
“We are so inspired by the stories of Little Victors fighting such courageous battles every day. Programs run by the Child Life staff are critical to bringing a sense of normalcy for children and their families.”
The new fund will cover the cost of cardboard viewers for every child and teen admitted at Mott. Patients can choose from a long list of virtual reality apps available through smartphones.
“The possibilities are endless,” Mott certified child life specialist and patient technology coordinator J.J. Bouchard says. “New virtual reality apps are being developed every day that let kids visit faraway places, see extinct animals and even go to space. The viewers are a fantastic new tool that make it easier for kids to have these ‘out of hospital’ experiences.”
The Harbaugh Fund is intended to grow over time and has already inspired nearly $50,000 in additional donations from other donors that will support Child Life activities.
The Child and Family Life team at Mott includes trained professionals who work with doctors, nurses and social workers to reduce anxiety experienced by children facing hospitalization and chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Services include music therapy, activity centers, procedure preparation, sibling programs, art therapy and an in-hospital school program.
“Kids who spend long periods of time in hospital rooms often feel isolated and cut off from friends and social worlds,” says Daniel Fischer, director of the Child and Family Life Department at Mott. “Our Child Life team is constantly looking for fun and engaging opportunities that help connect families to the outside world and offer respite from hospital life.
“We are thankful to the Jim Harbaugh Foundation for supporting programs that help reduce anxiety and stress for children and families and make them feel as comfortable as possible while here.”
The cardboard viewers will be one more way digital technology supports healing at Mott. Over the last year, the hospital has also installed Xboxes in every patient room and offered diverse virtual and augmented reality programs.
Volunteers from Ann Arbor-based GameStart work with the Child Life team to bring cutting-edge Oculus Rift headsets to Mott, letting young patients experience roller coasters, submarines and other virtual worlds. The headsets may be used one at a time.
Physical and occupational therapists have also used augmented reality books created by Ann Arbor-based company Spellbound to help kids in rehab as they re-learn functions like pointing and talking. The Spellbound app is used with smartphone or iPad cameras to make the characters in the books appear to pop off pages and interact with the reader, making rehab more enjoyable and fun for young patients.
“The new technology has really opened our eyes to a whole new way of engaging with and serving our patients,” says Bouchard. “For kids who are stuck in a hospital room or have physical limitations that prevent them from doing some of these activities in real life, virtual world experiences can really enhance their therapy. We can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Michigan’s Giving Blue Day raises money for campus and health system programs on the globally-recognized Giving Tuesday following Black Friday.