Web Cams Connect Sick Kids With Classrooms

Local hospital using new technology to give kids more social interaction

For children suffering from life-threatening diseases like cancer, spending all that time in and out of the hospital can be lonely time for these kids. They're often isolated and can't interact with their friends. But a new program is bringing sick kids back to the classroom, without ever leaving the hospital.

For the first time in three weeks, 6-year-old Becky Wilson is able to talk to her first-grade classmates at Arlington's Jamestown Elementary School.

She was diagnosed with leukemia last year. She's now in remission, but recently her white blood cell count has dropped too low, compromising her immune system and requiring her to stay home from school.

"I missed the classes because projects are super fun," she said.

"She's a very bright little girl, but I do think she's missing all her friends and misses interacting socially with them," said her mother, Lisa Wilson.

But a new program through Georgetown University Hospital is connecting sick kids with their friends and classrooms. Special web cameras are placed on laptops at the hospital and in the classroom, so kids can log on and actually join other students during educational lessons or even just to chat with friends.

"These web cams mean a lot for us now," said Georgetown University Hospital pediatric oncologist Dr. Aziza Shad. "We have home tutors. We have school tutors for the children. What we don't have is this interaction between the class and the child."

Shad works with these children everyday. She said without this social interaction, many children diagnosed with life-threatening diseases can develop other problems as they get older.

"What you see years down the road is post-traumatic stress syndrome," Shad said. "The feeling of social isolation never really goes away. So I think in a program like this, you're able to put those pieces back in the mix the way you treat the child."

With the new camera, Becky was able to hear about the social studies and English lessons she missed. Her classmates were able to ask her questions about her cancer.

"Becky is the kind of child who, if she didn't have this kind of interaction, she'd probably be a very quiet depressed child," Shad said. "I mean, you saw her eyes light up. You saw her face light up. That's what we want to achieve for every child."

"I think the web cam is going to enable her to talk to them as if she was in the room and talk to them about what she's doing and what they're doing and things that everyday children talk about to each other," said her mother, Lisa.

For Becky, she was able to forget that she was in the hospital.

"I got to feel like I was really there."

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