“Oooooo, I got a strike!”
Lashera Gandy is celebrating a big win in a close bowling match with Tracy. Their chatter quickly turns to what’s on tap for the weekend. Lashera’s boyfriend is having a birthday. She’s looking forward to the seafood dinner they have planned. The weather is supposed to be nice, so she’s thinking they’ll eat outside. Tracy picks up a spare.
The ladies aren’t at a bowling alley. They’re at Magee, on the 5th floor, and they’re in front of a new flat screen TV. They’re holding wands instead of bowling balls, and the pins are projected on screen via the Nintendo Wii video game system. Lashera and Tracy Bogdanoff have developed a friendship, but Tracy is also Lashera’s Recreational Therapist. Lashera suffered a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident. Playing Wii Bowling helps challenge her balance in her wheelchair. She misses her job as a preschool teacher and hopes her young students remember her when she’s ready to go back to work. But for a short while, she doesn’t have to worry about all that. She’s got a game to win.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re in the hospital when you’re in this room,” Lashera says with a smile.
Scenes like this are part of what Team Magee imagined when they first began dreaming up the Adolescent/Young Adult Assistive Technology Suite, or AYA Room. They wanted a dedicated space where Magee’s younger patients could be themselves, utilize state of the art technology, and reach their rehab goals. Years of thoughtful, multidisciplinary planning plus vital funding from individual supporters, Comcast Foundation, the Percival Roberts, Jr. Trust, and the Anapol Schwartz Foundation, helped make the AYA Room a reality.
“It really was a team effort,” Jessica Doran, Recreational Therapist, says. “From Plant Operations to IT to all of our therapists, everyone added something to help make this room happen. It was a labor of love.”
The AYA Room is specifically designed for Magee’s younger patients who are recovering from traumatic injuries such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and amputation. Magee serves a significant number of adolescent patients (approximately 50 each year) and is the only rehabilitation hospital in the urban center of Philadelphia that specifically serves adolescents.
The assistive technology equipment chosen for the AYA Room is focused toward the interests of adolescents and offers access to activities like:
- Age-appropriate recreational opportunities (video games, surfing the web, listening to music)
- Social media and instant messaging (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
- Learning age-related skills (for example: virtual reality environments to teach driving skills)
- Injury-related education requiring a personal, private space (e.g. sexuality education)
- School-related needs (reading, researching, writing papers, attending classes via Skype or other video conference software)
The AYA Room provides access to life activities that Magee’s young patients would otherwise not be able to participate in while simultaneously encouraging young patients to move their arms, torso, head, and feet, activities that further strengthen their physical rehabilitation. The positive emotional response of young patients to having a room where they can be themselves, explore, play, and socialize will help these patients with the emotional adjustment to being injured and living with a disability.
Vilma Mazziol has made her career helping the adolescent patients at Magee. For 30 years, she has worked as an Adolescent Vocational and Educational Counselor, making sure Magee’s patients age 14-21 stay on track with their goals for both school and a job, no matter what obstacles are presented. With the new AYA Room, she has a bright new space to tutor patients, plus technology that allows them to read books despite visual impairments, and speech recognition software for those who cannot type. But the social and emotional benefits are perhaps just as crucial as acing that next exam.
“When we have these young kids in the hospital for several weeks, they can get bored,” Mazziol says. “The AYA Room gives our young adults a place where they can unwind and relax. At that age, it’s so important.”
And the space is not just for patients. In fact, one goal is for the AYA Room to become a place for patients to connect with friends and family. For Magee patient Bobby Harris, that means a virtual boxing match with his little brother, while his mom, aunt, and cousins cheer them on. It’s a scene that likely played out in their living room dozens of times – two brothers playfully trash talking over a video game – but on that sunny Wednesday afternoon, it just happened to take place at Magee.
“They’re just growing at this point,” Doran says. “They’re going through self-esteem issues, social stigma. The AYA Room helps them feel normal, whatever that might be.”
Magee is currently recruiting volunteers to staff the AYA Room. Interested? Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.
Special thanks to Comcast Foundation, the Percival Roberts, Jr. Trust, the Anapol Schwartz Foundation, and BNY Mellon Mid-Atlantic Charitable Trusts for providing the funding for the AYA Assistive Technology Suite and Program.