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Nurse Creates Game to Calm Children Undergoing Anesthesia


Going under for surgery can be a scary experience for many kids. But it’s important to keep young patients calm throughout the procedure, so Abby Hess, a nurse practitioner at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, came up with a video game to help children relax. Instead of using a controller to move a digital avatar, kids use their breathing to interact with the game. It features cartoon animals that will move on the screen when the child breathes into a mask, which can help them relax while falling asleep before surgery.

“Many young patients become anxious when an anesthesia mask is placed over their face in the operating room,” said Hess in a press release. “I wanted to find a way to help kids feel calmer during this high-anxiety moment.”


One Cincinnati Children’s nurse is doing her part to try and make what can be a scary moment in a child’s life a little less so. #cincinnati #cincychildrens #healthcare #hospital #pediatrics #doinggood #goodnews #leadingtheway

♬ Funny Song – Cavendish Music

Hess works closely with children undergoing surgery as part of her role at the Department of Anesthesia at the hospital. She spent years researching the game to make the experience easier for patients and parents. She notes that thousands of kids receive anesthesia every year for surgery. But more children are being diagnosed with anxiety, which can complicate the experience. Studies show children with high anxiety before surgery tend to have worse health outcomes.

The game is licensed by Little Seed Calming Technologies, a Columbus, Ohio firm, which retains the right to market the tablet-based computer application to other hospitals.

“Dr. Hess is a compassionate, driven, and innovative problem-solver,” said Jeff Penka, CEO of the firm. “She has infused that patient-focused spirit and energy into the collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and Little Seed Calming Technologies. Seeing how this engaging, fun application puts children and families at ease in an unfamiliar environment is both moving and a source of pride for all involved in its creation.”

The hospital says most children aged 10 and younger undergoing surgery receive anesthesia through a mask, but many patients resist the process even when they are surrounded by medical professionals and their parents.

When the child puts on the mask and begins playing the game, they will win different prizes by breathing in and out.

“The game shifts the focus from something scary to something that’s calming and fun,” Hess explained. “It easily engages kids, teaches them to breathe calmly, and lets them know what to expect when they go back to the operating room. Seeing their child engage with the game also helps parents feel at ease and provides them with a novel way to coach their child during the process.”

“People may not realize that Cincinnati Children’s is a hub for medical innovation,” said Abram Gordon, vice president of Innovation Ventures, the medical center’s technology transfer and commercialization group. “Cincinnati Children’s has a long history of creating vaccines, therapeutics, medical products and digital solutions – and we are ahead of the curve with organoid and small molecule research.”

If a child is anxious before their surgery, experts recommend bringing their favorite blanket or stuffed animal to help them relax. Some children also receive sedatives to help them relax prior to receiving anesthesia depending on their age, condition, and anxiety level. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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