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Supporting the 18Loop & ACCO partnership to improve the lives of children with cancer and their families

This article originally appeared on Website.

VRforHealth has been supporting the great work of 18Loop and ACCO since April 2022. On this second anniversary of their partnership, Denise Silber interviewed both Greg Tarnacki (18Loop) and Ruth Hoffman (ACCO).

VRforHealth: Greg, How did you become interested  in applying virtual reality to help children suffering from illnesses and subsequently contact ACCO ?
Greg: I started 18Loop after a 20 year career in technology sales and a year stint in Americorps. I was a VISTA, or Volunteer In Service To America. My Americorps service fueled my interest in the nonprofit world, and I was intent on entering that world by delivering technological impact. 18Loop was formed in 2017 and focused on cancer because of a personal experience that I had with the young cousin of a friend suffering from the disease. We originally decided to base our intervention on robotics, but eventually found that VR was more immediately impactful. I called the ACCO as a cold call because all signs pointed to their organization taking a lead role in fighting for a cure for pediatric cancer in the US. We initially tried cheaper and more basic Google Cardboard style VR, but once Oculus introduced their GO HMD, we realized that we had to work to deliver the best solution to Ruth’s kids. We now have over 100 headsets in total and most of those are with the ACCO.

VRforHealth: Ruth, how did you first react when Greg contacted you about his project? How does 18Loop fit with the mission of ACCO and how does the partnership work?
Ruth: 18 Loop’s VR program fits beautifully into ACCO’s resources that we provide to children. Kids undergoing cancer treatment receive harsh therapies that can include toxic chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Teens face unique challenges in that they are often isolated from their friends and school community during a time in their lives when they would normally be expanding their social reach. Additionally, one in five teens will learn that they will not be cured of their cancer, and must face death with an increased cognitive understanding as a result of their age. When Greg first introduced the VR program, I had known many teens who had died from cancer and had witnessed their emotional and physical pain. Helping these kids to not feel as isolated, and assisting them with pain management through the VR headset was a gift to these incredible teens as they faced death.

VRforHealth: Greg, you have mentioned that VR supports children in 5 ways: mood, pain control, collaboration, education, exercise.  Can you say more?
Greg: 18Loop has discovered that our VR intervention benefits our kids in the five ways that you mention. We deploy Tripp to our kids which is designed in terms of neuroscience to benefit mood. It also delivers an ancillary benefit in terms of pain management. Tripp’s CEO has gifted lifetime environments to our current batch of kids and their team has been very supportive of our joint mission. Seven years ago, I witnessed a port access procedure done with bulky and expensive legacy VR. That study illustrated how immersion can effectively distract patients from pain and discomfort. We now can replicate that immersive distraction every day at a fraction of the cost with Quest 2. That’s the magic of technological progress. There is some correlation to Moore’s Law in terms of the exponential increase in processing power. VR exercise is a great benefit as well, as it keeps our cancer patients moving in the hospital at home. Physicians find that exercise is vital and we concur based on the feedback that we have received. We are examining collaboration tools currently and have explored formal partnerships for immersive learning. Our families have been pointed to a few options for each, but stay tuned for more structure from us on collaboration and learning.

VRforHealth: Ruth, How does ACCO  present the opportunity of using VR to the families of the unwell children?  And did you have to set up any special logistical process to deliver the headsets?
Ruth: ACCO receives requests every day for our resources, which are provided without charge to all children with cancer and their families across the country. We identify potential kids who are age appropriate, who are on active cancer treatment, and who would most benefit from the VR headset program, based upon diagnosis, and prognosis. Once a month, ACCO filters resource requests to find kids eligible for the 18Loop Headset. From there, our staff reaches out to the kids’ families individually to let them know about the opportunity and to see if they would be interested in getting involved. Once the headset requests come through, our staff member Blair determines if they are legitimate requests and adds them to a spreadsheet. She lets our resource coordinator know that there have been new kids added and he processes the headset. Headsets are sent out along with shirts as soon as they become available.

VRforHealth: Greg, Tell us more about how the families use the headsets while the child is ill and even after?
We have seen families use the headset as a group for all of the same reasons that the kids do alone. 18Loop has stories of brothers and sisters benefiting from the technology because they are stressed from the disruption that illness causes in their families. We also see certain cases where our kids lose their fight to cancer and have evidence that Tripp and other VR apps help with grieving and bereavement. You can go to our website for statistical data, which we have gathered from our ACCO families. Pictures tell part of the story, but feedback from parents and oncologists point to a high degree of success for the program. Health and wellness VR is no longer a novelty, but sometimes the benefit gets lost in the description of the technology itself. The next frontier is standards development, hardware commoditization and more pervasive regulatory approval for xR wellness apps. It’s cool that Apple has jumped in as well.

VRforHealth: Ruth and Greg, This is such a worthy cause. We are so impressed. What are your current needs? I know you are regularly applying for grants. Can you tell us about that?
Ruth:  As you mentioned, financial support is always a huge need. We need people with big hearts who are willing to support these incredible kids by raising funds or donating to support our programs.

Greg: 18Loop is relaunching in April and we’d love to drive traffic to our site in order to scale individual donations. We plan to offer options to purchase individual HMDs on behalf of an ACCO child and we are raffling off a Quest 3 to raise funds for our program. We expect additional funding this Spring, but there is never enough capital for our headset demand. We’ll keep working to meet the need.

VRforHealth: And to conclude with an opening – what are you hoping for from the partnership with VRforHealth? Why us?
We hope to continue the work we’ve done with you. I hope we can expand the level of cooperation in order to drive headset revenue and support your business collaboratively. It’s always pleasure to partner with VR for Health.

Denise Silber: Thank you Greg and Ruth for the time, for your kind words, and for the great work you do!

For more information about 18Loop and ACCO, check out these links.



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