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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Spring 2000 Online

A Virtual Playground

Unheard of and even impossible five years ago, now technology allows children with cancer to frolic on a special make-believe playground through the power of the Internet.

The STARBRIGHT World is an inter-active virtual playground that is specially designed for hospitalized children and teenagers. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital is the first hospital in Michigan to go online with STARBRIGHT World -- a place where pediatric patients across the nation with serious and chronic medical conditions can interact within a community of their peers.

Children using STARBRIGHT

"Through STARBRIGHT, children are able to play games, learn and communicate with other children throughout the country who are able to truly understand what it is like to be a child with an illness," says Lisa Engbrecht, Child Life Services specialist at Mott. "The goal of STARBRIGHT is to help children cope, understand and just have fun. Our patients are showing us that STARBRIGHT is doing that!"

The U-M Hospital received the STARBRIGHT program in November of 1998 through an anonymous donation. Currently there are five computers available for the children -- one on each level of Mott, one that is mobile for use in patient rooms and one in the Pediatric Infusion Area in the Cancer Center.

"STARBRIGHT is really cool, and a fun way to meet new people," says Karresha Jenkins, a 15-year-old pediatric hematology patient at the Cancer Center. "It's fun getting mail from other people because you get excited about meeting people from all over the country.

"I like talking to people on video conferencing because you get to see and talk to people who have the same illness as you."

Other patients at Mott are having the same experience. Rusty, also 15 says, "It's pretty cool. You get to search around and try to find someone to talk to, you get to play games and you learn stuff." Rusty also likes the chat line because "you can say what you think and no one sees your face."

The STARBRIGHT World is divided into five distinct sections:

Explore: Kids can access more than 300 approved, private websites on such topics as entertainment, sports and health care.

Connect: Kids can communicate with their peers at other hospitals through chat rooms, video conferencing, instant messaging and a medical bulletin board.

Activities: Kids can play games and participate in arts and crafts, either by themselves or with other kids around the country.

Find a Friend: This section allows sick children to search for other STARBRIGHT World kids who may have similar medical conditions, hobbies or interests.

STARBRIGHT Zone: Created by kids for kids, this section allows users to tell STARBRIGHT developers how to improve the network.

"We have funding for the first couple of years and will be seeking financial support to continue the system for years to come," comments Engbrecht. "We are so excited to be able to provide this resource. STARBRIGHT has opened so many doors for children, from breaking up the isolation of a bone marrow transplant room to helping siblings understand what it's like to have cancer."

"We have created a true virtual playground," says Steven Spielberg, chairman of the STARBRIGHT Foundation. "It's a place that can help children recapture the joy of being a kid. Regardless of how far technology advances, it's the human connection that matters. Maybe it's just for an hour a day, but for that hour, kids can escape from their pain and their reality to a place where they can make anything happen.

"They are in total control, and we can give them a place where their imaginations can run free.

"STARBRIGHT World engages kids and allows them to meet new friends, talk candidly about why they're in the hospital, and compare notes with each other," said Spielberg. "That's pretty cool."

Future plans include making the network available to seriously ill children at home, in clinics and in camps.

STARBRIGHT World is made possible though the support of STARBRIGHT Foundation corporate sponsors: Sprint and Intel, STARBRIGHT World Exclusive Telecommunications Providers.


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