SAVANNAH, GA – The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is helping to improve the lives of hospice patients using cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) technology through an ongoing initiative entitled VR for Good.
Led by SCAD’s School of Digital Media Dean Max Almy and professor Teri Yarbrow, students are creating interactive VR experiences in collaboration with Hospice Savannah and the Steward Center for Palliative Care to reduce patient pain and anxiety, and to provide a much-needed escape.
“Virtual reality is set to revolutionize the healthcare industry with applications in pain management, rehab, medical training and robotic surgery; SCAD is the preeminent source of knowledge in immersive reality platforms and stands at the forefront, developing technology and working directly with doctors to provide them with the tools they need to improve the lives of their patients,” Almy said.
Immersive reality, interactive design and game development, and animation students are creating three experiences including; "Born to Roam," a hot air balloon bucket list travel experience; "Underwater," an underwater interactive adventure; and "Apples and Anthills," a nostalgic farm experience that encourages gentle movement with the patients and can be used for physical therapy.
“I took SCAD's VR for Good class because I wanted to do exactly that — I wanted to do something good,” said Richon Watson, (B.F.A., interactive design and game development, 2020). “It was even more exciting for me that I could take my talents and the skills I have built throughout my years at SCAD and do something that is actually going to help people and go out there into the real world. Even more importantly, I'm doing something that helps people have a better life experience, even if it is toward the end of it, and that's a valuable experience for me.”
“Ultimately, the word for it is fulfilling; as a creative I can make an impact while I am still a student,” said Erin Miller (B.F.A., immersive reality). “That's something I could only dream of before coming to SCAD. VR for Good is an amazing opportunity to integrate VR into healthcare. I don't see this opportunity at any other university.”
“In the midst of a pandemic, to bring all of these students together and engage them in making a contribution and focusing on something positive has been really an amazing experience,” said Yarbrow.
SCAD’s partnership with Hospice Savannah began in 2019 with its President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Benton. As leader of one of the oldest and most progressive hospice centers in the country, Benton believes the VR for Good initiative is as important as musical and massage therapy in reducing pain and opioid use.
Benton’s brother received an honorary degree from SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace in 2016 shortly before he passed away from a life-threatening illness. The Daniel DeLoach Memorial Fund, created in her brother’s memory, is helping to fund the necessary VR equipment for Hospice Savannah patients.
“We are seeing that beautiful community go beyond SCAD and Hospice Savannah — these students are from all over the world and they are working in sync for the good of others. They are an example to society that this is a time when we put our heads together and hold hands and work together to do good for others because quite frankly, that may be what gets us through times of hard mental health,” said Benton. “There really is nothing like being driven by altruism. It's not about success; it's so much more than that. I think these students are an example to the world right now of the good that we should find.”