Medical Minute 9-7: Virtual Reality Pain Chiller

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

Former Marine Josh McDaniel likes playing "shoot'em up" video games, but he credits this game for helping him through one of the most difficult times in his life.

"My face was completely burned off. My swimming shorts melted to my legs," said Josh McDaniel, Burn Victim.

Josh was severely burned during an on-base barbecue when a fellow marine threw a flammable liquid on the grill.

"It splashed the chemical over my whole body, and I went up like a match."

With severe burns covering about 60% of his body, Josh went to the Defense Department's U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. During his painful recovery, Josh volunteered to take part in a research study.

He helped Doctor Christopher Maani test out a virtual reality pain management tool called snow world. Josh demonstrated how it works.

Looking through high-tech goggles, Josh launches snowballs at penguins and snowmen through an icy canyon as Paul Simon plays.

Josh said he forgot about the painful daily cleaning and dressing of his wounds. Doctor Maani says his study shows that Snow World decreased burn patients' pain and the need for heavy pain medication during treatments - findings that could improve a victim's overall rehab and state of mind.

"So, we're keeping him more comfortable and reducing the amount of pain medications. Now, as soon as we take the goggles off, they're right back to being awake," said Christopher V. Maani, M.D., Chief of Anesthesia.

The effects of a pain chiller that helped Josh during his incredible recovery.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: In the United States, approximately 2.4 million burn injuries are reported per year. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 have major burns involving at least 25 percent of their total body surface. Between 8,000 and 12,000 of patients with burns die, and approximately one million will sustain substantial or permanent disabilities resulting from their burn injury. (SOURCE: Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation)
TYPES: There are three levels of burns:
• First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin. They cause pain, redness, and swelling.
• Second-degree (partial thickness) burns affect both the outer and underlying layer of skin. They cause pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.
• Third-degree (full thickness) burns extend into deeper tissues. They cause white or blackened, charred skin that may be numb. (SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)
LIFESTYLE: Burns are one of the most expensive catastrophic injuries to treat. For example, a burn of 30 percent of total body area can cost as much as $200,000 in initial hospitalization costs and for physician's fees. For extensive burns, there are additional significant costs, which will include costs for repeat admission for reconstruction and for rehabilitation.
CHILLING DISCOVERY: The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) Burn Center in San Antonio, Texas is collaborating with researchers at the University of Washington to investigate whether a new virtual reality game called “SnowWorld” can help lessen the pain of treatment for combat burns.
SnowWorld is a virtual reality system that lets users walk through wintry environments and lob snowballs at stationary targets. The cool imagery and immersive game play are proving in early tests to be a viable alternative to strong drugs that leave patients dazed and disconnected. The previous research showed that not only do patients report less pain while playing SnowWorld, but fMRI scans also show that virtual reality reduces the brain’s pain signals.
Because SnowWorld has been so effective with burn patients, the researchers hope to make the virtual reality game part of everyday practice. For use with combat veterans, who may have burns on their heads and faces, they built an articulated arm to position the VR goggles the patients use, instead of having to wear a helmet. (SOURCE: Science Central)

Dr. Christopher V. Maani
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research

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