Sick Kids are smiling thanks to Starbright technology

The Toronto-based Hospital for Sick Children together with the Los Angeles, Calif.-based Starbright Foundation is changing the face of childhood illness, by implementing Starbright World at the hospital.

Starbright World is a program which is chaired by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. It is a private, interactive computer network where hospitalized kids from across the North America can interact with a community of their peers, helping each other cope with the day-to-day realities of living with illness.

“We are thrilled to be the first hospital in Canada to offer the Starbright program to hospitalized children,” said Dr. Brian Shaw, chief of community health at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC). “Since many of these children are in isolated environments, it will enable them to interact and share experiences with other children facing similar challenges.”

In Starbright World, children share experiences, fears, frustrations and their own brand of medical humour in a safe and secure environment. The network offers Internet technologies such as Web sites, chat rooms, bulletin boards, e-mail and even video-conferencing capabilities, so that children and teens can meet on-line and talk face-to-face.

According to the HSC’s director of social work and acting director of child life, Ted McNeill, the program can be very therapeutic for the patients.

“The kinds of experiences and feelings that kids often face when they have a chronic health condition present them with some real challenges. We’re very hopeful that Starbright World will be a great resource in helping them to come to terms with that and some of those issues,” McNeill said. “Kids, at the click of the mouse, can access information that helps inform them about their condition.”

Starbright’s other programs include interactive CD-ROM games on Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia as well as common medical procedures ranging from bone marrow aspirations to radiology procedures.

Funding for the project comes from the Garth Brooks Touch’em All Foundation, Dell Canada, which is supplying the computers, and Global One, which is contributing high-speed Internet connections.

McNeill finds the videoconferencing feature outstanding.

“To think that our technology has evolved to a point where a child here at the Hospital in Toronto can talk to another child in San Diego or Miami and connect is amazing,” McNeill said. “This will be our high-tech equivalent of an MRI or a CAT scan.”