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Mon Health Medical Center Patient Test Drives Virtual Reality Art Program; Travels the World While Undergoing IV Treatment

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Karen Buckton woke up in Rock Cave, WV, on Feb. 12, but by 3 p.m., she had painted artwork inside a gallery in Argentina, explored the French Quarter in New Orleans and conversed with Don Knotts on High Street.

Buckton, a patient at the Mon Health Zelda Stein Weiss Cancer Center, was the first cancer patient to test drive MONA, Mon Health’s new virtual reality art therapy.

Completely unaware of the nurse who managed her IV treatment, Buckton traveled the world, including local favorites like Coopers Rock and the original Apple Annie’s. Her husband, Ron, sat beside her, sharing her experience by viewing a tablet and occasionally guiding her journey.

MONA was created by The Healing Museum, a virtual reality art platform designed to help with pain management, decrease anxiety and ease tension. The Healing Museum’s CTO and Co-Founder, MIT and Morgantown High School alumnus Benjamin Gleitzman, helped develop the technology that powers the museum. His father was a podiatrist at Mon Health Medical Center, and while the younger Gleitzman favored an MIT diploma over a medical degree, he wanted to develop technology that would positively impact the healthcare experience of West Virginians.

The innovative therapy is currently implemented within Urology with plans to introduce it further in the infusion center as well as other departments.

“While patients are undergoing treatment or surgery, they’re transported out of the hospital, into the community and beyond,” said Gleitzman.

For Buckton, her favorite stop on her worldwide journey was at the ProyectArte gallery in Argentina, as she and her husband are artists, too.

While she only spent 13 minutes immersed in the world beyond the infusion center, time passed quickly.

“I could have spent a couple of hours with no problem at all,” she said.

Gleitzman was not surprised.

“We’ve designed immersive experiences to play with the perception of time, so hospital procedures feel like they go by more quickly than they actually last,” he said.

To build MONA’s collection, traditional and virtual reality artists from around the world – and the local community – contribute content. Morgantown High School students are currently preparing an experience featuring local artists and special places around Morgantown. Mon Health volunteers serve as tour guides to navigate patients through the museum using interactive tablets.

“Developing ways to avoid the use of pain medications is vital as we face the opioid crisis – especially in West Virginia,” Gleitzman said. “While the mind is off on a creative voyage, the brain is powerfully persuaded to feel less pain. Together with the medical staff here at Mon Health Medical Center, we’re confident we can create a viable alternative to pain medication.”

Dr. Jaschar Shakuri-Rad, Mon Health Medical Center Urologist and Director of Robotic Surgery began using the virtual reality headsets during vasectomies in late 2018. After many successful therapy sessions, patients are enlightened by the ability to be transported through creative experiences all around the world. Dr. Shakuri-Rad is confident in utilizing the program to further decrease patient pain.

“My patients can choose from many exhibitions that encourage them to think and interact creatively, providing a distraction to further decrease pain levels,” said Dr. Shakuri-Rad. “By engaging multiple or all of the patient’s sensory inputs, we hope to be able to suppress their perception of pain thereby reducing the need for opioid medications altogether.”

“The field of virtual reality in medicine has a lot of potential. We are very excited to bring this cutting-edge technology to Mon Health Medical Center and our community to help improve the patient care experience, one patient at a time,” explained David Goldberg, President and CEO of Mon Health.

Mon Health is an integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient centers and hospitals in North Central West Virginia that works together to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to the communities it serves. For more information, visit monhealth.com.

MONA is a virtual art museum that whisks patients away from the confines of hospital rooms using therapeutic, immersive artworks created by artists and doctors. To learn more visit www.mona.care.