Trial: Matthew Down tried out the technology Lucy Young
A 10-year-old Londoner has helped trial a virtual reality experience to help children prepare for an often daunting brain and body scan.
King’s College Hospital, in Denmark Hill, has developed the app for children who are due to enter an MRI — magnetic resonance imaging — machine.
It takes the child through a first-person journey, from arriving at the hospital to going into the tubular machine, which can involve long periods lying still in a claustrophobic and noisy environment.
The app, My MRI At King’s, was given the thumbs-up by 10-year-old MRI veteran Matthew Down, from Kingston, who needs annual 45-minute scans after having urgent surgery for triventricular hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain, in 2014.
He said: “The first time I was nervous because the machine was big and it was very loud. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What’s going on?’
Tunnel vision: the app shows what happens during the MRI scan.
“Having the VR app lets you look around so you get to see your surroundings and experience it before you actually have the scan. I think it will calm children down if they’re getting a bit worked up.
"It’s a good way for them to get ready and prepare for it.”
The free app, for Android and iOS, was developed by MRI physicist Jonathan Ashmore, who is based at the hospital, and learning technologist Jerome Di Pietro, of King’s College London.
Dr Ashmore shot the film in 360-degree video so that it can be seen through VR goggles or on a smart device.
He said: “If we can show kids this app, hopefully it won’t be such a fearful experience. Some are so anxious of having a scan they get in there, they are crying and sometimes need sedating.
"We hope they can sit down with a play specialist, go through the app and discuss their anxieties.”
Matthew’s father, Andy, 48, a swimming teacher, said: “We’re indebted to King’s College so we wanted to do anything we could to help them. It gives you the complete journey from coming down from the ward.
“They’ve got images inside the MRI machine and they have the clicking as well so they get used to the noise the machine makes.”
Dr Darshan Das, a consultant paediatrician at King’s, said: “The app has had some really positive feedback and I can see that it has the potential to significantly relieve anxiety and prevent the need for children to undergo an anaesthetic in many cases.”