iPads Help Ease the Pain

by Bill Van Kirk

At 6:30 one recent morning on 4 Henson – three hours before her chemotherapy was scheduled to begin – five-year-old Addison Leslie of Lawrence, Kan., pushed her alert button and said, “I’m ready for my procedure!”

Addison is being treated for a form of lymphoma that requires a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to inject her medication – certainly nothing to look forward to.

However, thanks to a generous donor, Addison is distracted from the discomfort by an iPad – a tablet computer best known for its business applications, but also capable of providing games, books, music and other fun stuff.

Children’s Mercy has five iPads that the Child Life Department uses in some areas to help inpatients and outpatients cope with invasive procedures. Because of the limited number of iPads and in order to keep their use special (as opposed to an always-available bedside activity that might become routine), iPad use is limited to children undergoing invasive procedures. Child Life is hoping to receive more iPad donations.

“It’s been a real joy to see. It makes a world of difference."

   -Janine Leslie, Addison's mother, on the benefit of having iPads during chemotherapy.

“The success rate has been amazing,” said Nicki Stang, CCLS, Child Life Outpatient Supervisor. “We’ve found that the iPads work with kids of all ages and developmental abilities. Plus, there are so many activity applications that if one doesn’t work, we just keep moving on until we find one the patient likes.”

In Addison’s case, the iPad is a double blessing because she didn’t react well to the “conscious sedation” medication normally used to prepare patients receiving her type of chemotherapy. She is so engrossed in “Fruit Ninja” (where the player tries to slice fruit without setting off a booby trap), or dressing Barbie, or battling annoying zombies (in “Plants vs. Zombies”), that doctors were able to stop using the medications that bothered her.

“She was so distracted by the iPad that she didn’t even flinch when the doctor put the needle in her back,” said Kelly Kinamore, Child Life Specialist who works with Addison.

Addison’s mother, Janine Leslie, said, “It’s been a real joy to see. It makes a world of difference. She isn’t so scared of the procedure.”

In fact, Addison gets so absorbed in her iPad games, Ms. Leslie said, “It’s like we’re non-existent in the room now. She couldn’t care less if we’re there, so we stand at the foot of the bed instead of by her head.”

Kinamore said, “I wasn’t really a skeptic, but I admit I was surprised at how well the iPads have worked as a distraction tool.”

And the iPads are as popular with Kelly and her Child Life Specialist colleagues as they are with the patients. Instead of lugging backpacks jammed with books and other tools of their trade, much of what they need is programmed in the tablet computer that is 9.5 inches high, 7.5 inches wide, one-half inch deep and weighs about 1.5 lbs.

“The iPads have content designed for boys and girls,” Kinamore said. “The kids can read, or have books read to them, sing-along with music, or watch movies or TV programs. Also, I can show them pictures of what to expect when they begin their treatment, such as a blood-pressure sleeve, the exam table and operating room, without having to carry around a notebook with those pictures. Having that visual to show them what they can expect to see, feel and touch makes all the difference for kids in coping better with the procedure.”

Donated iPads have provided a welcome distraction
during chemotherapy for five-year-old Addison Leslie,
who often gets gaming tips from Kelly Kinamore,
Child Life Specialist who works with her.