Virtual reality game helps burn victims

FRESNO, Calif.

Every year, 45,000 people are hospitalized for serious burns in the U.S. Now, doctors are studying how throwing snowballs in a virtual world is helping burn victims cope with painful wound treatments.

Former marine Josh McDaniel likes playing "shoot'em up" video games, but he credits a different game for helping him through one of the most difficult times in his life.

"My face was completely burned off," McDaniel told Action News. "My swimming shorts melted to my legs."

Josh was severely burned during an on-base barbeque when a fellow marine threw a flammable liquid on the grill.

"It splashed the chemical over my whole body, and I went up like a match," Josh said.

With severe burns covering about 60-percent of his body, Josh came to the Defense Department's U.S Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. During his painful recovery, Josh volunteered to take part in a research study. He helped doctor Christopher Maani test out a virtual reality pain management tool called Snow World.

Looking through high-tech goggles, Josh launches snowballs at penguins and snowmen through an icy canyon as Paul Simon plays, immersed in an arctic environment.

"That triggers the memory of cold," Christopher V. Maani, M.D, chief of anesthesia at the U.S Army Institute of Surgical Research, explained.

Doctor Maani says his study shows Snow World decreased burn patients pain and the need for heavy pain medication during treatments, findings that could improve a victim's overall rehab and state of mind.

"So, we're keeping him more comfortable and reducing the amount of pain medications," Dr. Maani said. "Now, as soon as we take the goggles off, they're right back to being awake."

The effects of a pain chiller that helped josh during his incredible recovery. Snow World was developed by researchers at the University of Washington. Doctor Maani's initial Snow World study included six civilians and 12 service members.

He wants to do a follow-up study to include hundreds of burn victims. He'd also like to develop ways to make virtual reality pain management wireless, more portable and more personalized.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Dr. Christopher V. Maani
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
Christopher.Maani@us.army.mil

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