Flying in a hot air balloon, diving into the ocean, or exploring a farm may not sound like activities for terminally ill patients, but that exactly what Hospice Savannah patients are experiencing through the Savannah College of Art and Design’s VR for Good initiative.
The initiative is a partnership between SCAD, Hospice Savannah, and the Steward Center for Palliative Care. Digital Media students, led by Dean Max Almy and Professor Teri Yarbrow, constructed virtual reality experiences to help patients left largely in isolation due to the pandemic.
"I've seen people who doubted their eternity look at beautiful virtual reality videos of light and take the headgear off and say I'm not scared anymore. I've seen a man who has been in a chair for months go golfing when that used to be his norm every single day and smile for the first time in 8 months," said CEO of Hospice Savannah Dr. Kathleen Benton.
The ability to give patients something they thought they lost is a passion project for one of the students involved in the initiative. Maya Peleg has Multiple Sclerosis. Part of her therapy involved virtual reality.
"I think making a project that helps people experience things they might not be able to is really an amazing experience," Peleg said. "For example, I'm a diver, a scuba diver, a certified master diver and that is one of the things I thought I would never get back. And I think bringing that to people who might not get to do that again is an amazing experience."
Peleg said she also believes that virtual reality will play a big part in healthcare in years to come.
Fellow SCAD student and VR for Good participant, Erin Miller, said she’s happy to see SCAD thinking ahead. "The VR for Good class is a great example of how SCAD is not idling waiting to see what the future brings, but it’s being part of the technologies and the industries that are up and coming."
Yarbrow is the SCAD Immersive Reality professor and said this initiative has given her students a chance to focus on something positive during the pandemic.
"This is a unique opportunity for students to take the technology and to see the immediate benefit that a caregiver and a patient can get from going into one of their immersive environments," said Yarbrow.
The VR for Good Initiative is partially funded by The Daniel DeLoach Memorial Fund. The fund was created in 2017 in memory of Dr. Kathleen Benton’s brother, Daniel DeLoach, after he died.
"I've been impressed mostly with the student's passion," Dr. Benton said.
"This is not just a class for them, this became much more. They are very driven by the mission and the people they are helping."