Hospitalized Kids Enjoy Gaming Diversions Thanks to U-M Football Legends

December 08, 2020 9:30 PM

Pro Football Hall of Fame gift helps sick children at Mott escape hospital life through virtual reality, connect with other kids during COVID-19 pandemic.  

Former University of Michigan football stars Ty Law and Tom Mack wanted to give back to the community where their prolific careers began.

So when they had a chance to pick an organization to support through the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they chose Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. In fall of 2019, the Wolverine alumni surprised Mott teams with gifts that helped enhance gaming capabilities for children who endure long hospitalizations.

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And those new diversions have proven especially valuable today as the COVID-19 pandemic limits in-person activities at the hospital, says Mott patient technology coordinator J.J. Bouchard.

“Gaming has become an even more popular diversion for our young patients who spend days, weeks or even longer at the hospital,” Bouchard says.

“We can use this technology to encourage movement and exploration in a virtual space and help kids connect with each other and the outside world even with the limitations of COVID-19. Video games provide a fun distraction and relief during what’s usually a stressful time.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame donated a new gaming laptop, two flat screen TVs and an Oculus Rift VR Headset. Because of the new gaming gear, kids can now play virtual reality games with other children at the hospital – giving them a sense of togetherness even from separate rooms.

Through virtual reality, kids can “play catch” with one another, virtually shake hands through vibrations in the controller or feel as though they’re talking side by side.

“Especially for kids who are isolated in their rooms, it’s nice to be able to put a helmet on and escape to somewhere else. You can suddenly be in a big open space, interacting with other kids in the woods for example, as opposed to being stuck inside a hospital,” Bouchard says.

“In many cases, you feel closer to others in the VR space than you could physically in the real world right now.”

Among the most popular games is Camp Magic, a virtual summer camp program designed specifically for Mott, allowing kids to feel like they’re outside and interacting with nature or even playing sports like golf, football and baseball.

Dancing and drawing games are other favorites, Bouchard says.

Mott has used video games in the hospital for decades but officially established the gaming technology program in 2015. The program has grown rapidly over recent years, with a big focus on movement, education and socialization.

Other initiatives that have helped children cope with hospital stays include Build Up Mobile, a unique Lego robotics bedside program and the Mott Arcade, a popular patient video game party.

During the pandemic, Mott Child Life teams also created MottTube, offering over 60 original videos through hospital TVs or devices to educate, entertain and encourage patients in the absence of in-person activities. Some video highlights include story time with hospital dog Denver, music therapy episodes, art projects and Little Victors’ yoga.

“Technology is helping us provide new ways for patients to cope with hospital stays during the pandemic,” Bouchard says. “We are continuously seeking ways to empower them to connect, be creative and express themselves. These are ways we can improve the healing environment for kids.”

After leaving Michigan in 1994, Law went on to play as a cornerback for the National Football League. He has won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and was added to the team’s Hall of Fame. Mack played for U-M from 1963-1965 and was inducted into the U-M Athletic Hall of Honor in 2006. During his NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams, he played in 11 Pro Bowls.

A video of the duo’s surprise visit showing them use the new equipment to play video games with Mott patients was shared online when they were named Pro Football Hall of Fame Hometown Heroes in winter of 2019.

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“They were very engaging with the kids,” Bouchard says. “The kids who were there were both gamers and big football fans. It was especially fun watching some kids out throw the players when tossing the virtual football.”

“We’re thankful to have these kinds of opportunities to provide diversions and normal kid experiences, especially right now when children feel isolated because of the pandemic,” he adds.