Virtual reality helps children’s hospital patients escape pain and anxiety

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Seventeen-year-old Ryan Shaughnessy says virtual reality goggles take him to a whole other world.

“It’s like one minute I’m in the hospital, the next minute I’m like on the moon or something. It’s crazy,” he said.

The Red Bank Regional High School junior was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of the school year.

“It was my third day of school. Getting ready, I was going to get blood work done and they were like emergency blood work. And I was like all right, I just better be home for school tomorrow. And here I am five months or six months later still at the hospital. Have been at the hospital ever since that day,” Shaughnessy said.

But with the goggles Shaughnessy says he can escape to a canyon, a waterfall, a mountain or the beach. He can also play games just by moving his head.

Christopher Beggs helps kids handle their anxiety and fears before surgery and says the goggles are a game changer.

“Whether it be their fear of having an IV, or whether it be a blood draw, or access of a port, or something that is very difficult, and see that this is something that actually helped them get through that difficult part of their day, I think is extremely meaningful. It’s definitely meaningful to me,” Beggs, a child life specialist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, said.

“We had seen across the country that there was an emergence of using virtual reality goggles for procedural pain and management and also using it for acute pain,” said Stacey Rifkin-Zenenberg, pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital.

Zenenberg met Shaughnessy when he was diagnosed.

“He has felt that it really has helped him decrease his pain and anxiety. And he really does like them,” said Zenenberg.

Shaughnessy says he’s on his last round of chemo and then he’s going home.

“All in all, I’m glad I could have this. Not the VR set, I mean have the cancer instead of someone else having it someone who might not be able to take it,” he said.

He’s made a lot of films with his friends in the past, including playing a superhero called Bullfrog. He says wants to code games when he’s older.

“I’m genuinely thinking about doing that. Like going up for that company and doing VR. That would be really nice to help kids like that,” he said.

Shaughnessy is a superhero on and off the screen.