Wii helps burned kids recover

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
September 11, 2008 3:31:03 PM PDT
There is a growing area of medicine that appears to be called "Wii-habilitation." It is occupational therapy that uses the video game system the Nintendo Wii.Each year, some 300 children go through the burn unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Weill Cornell campus in Manhattan. Healing burns and grafts is painful and requires arduous therapy. But therapists have figured out a way to make it all seem like child's play, using a video game.

Saquan Williamson is ready for his workout. Movement and exercise are what is going to help his scalded and badly burned arm and shoulder.

"There's a lot of pain associated with it, and there's a lot of work involved, too," Dr. Roger Yurt said. "You have to build your muscles back up, so you have to fight to get through it."

And fighting his way back is literally what Saquan is doing to heal his burned skin. Using the Wii video games of boxing and baseball, he is healing his muscles and doing the needed stretches on his new grafted skin.

"In a matter of four or five days, he pretty much has range of motion now," physical therapist Malvina Sher said.

Six-year-old Hanna Rose used the Wii to re-learn walking and balance after a bad accident burned her legs, trunk and back.

"She was even having a hard time standing by herself, and now we can see she's able to do a lot more on her own," occupational therapist Jena Morreale said.

And the most rewarding part for all the care givers is that the Wii distracts the children away from their pain.

Hanna has had five surgeries and many skin grafts. Her mother says the Wii made a huge difference.

"She had a really hard time walking, but the minute she got on the Wii, it was as if the pain wasn't there," she said. "It was probably the first time we had seen her laughing and smiling, when she got on the Wii. It was it was really good to see."

There is no evidence yet that the Wii helps the children heal faster, but hospital therapist Sam Yohann will soon be studying that question.

What is evident now, however, is the delight on the faces of children who have had to endure a lot of pain.

"They forget about their injury that they have, and they're into the game," Sher said. "The game is part of what they do. They're great."

After 10 weeks in the hospital, Hanna Rose is continuing her therapy at home. And the Wii is helping her continue healing. And even adults like it. The popularity of the game is extending beyond the entertainment factor and into a lot of rehab, or should we say Wii-hab.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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