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MEDi the robot brings smiles to patients

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New robot provides comfort, excitement for patients during medical procedures

For Nilima Gandhi, watching her 6-year-old son interact with Texas Children’s new robot fills her heart with joy. Her son suffers from beta-thalassemia major – a condition where the body cannot produce red blood cells – which requires him to receive blood transfusions every two to three weeks.

“When my son comes to Texas Children’s, his heart’s beating really fast and with something like this, at least it can calm him down,” Gandhi said. “I think the robot brings positive energy to the kids. At least when they are here, they can play with the robot and forget about their pain.”

 

Just two feet tall, the child-friendly robot named MEDi is one of several therapeutic intervention tools used by Child Life to improve the emotional well-being of our patients by reducing anxiety, perception of pain and fear of hospitalization.

“We can use the robot to distract patients during medical procedures such as blood draws or IVs,” said child life specialist Danielle Coleman. “MEDi can engage patients in fun activities like Simon Says and Rock Paper Scissors. He can also sing songs, dance, tell stories, and we can program the robot to greet patients by their first name so their experience with MEDi is more personal and engaging. ”

MEDi uses a wireless router and a tablet that contains various applications for different play behaviors including a set of medical applications (coaching behaviors) that MEDi uses for specific medical procedures.

“As long as I am connected to the router and he is fully charged, MEDi is completely autonomous – no wires attached,” Coleman said. “I simply click on an application on the iPad and MEDi will execute those specific behaviors.”

For patient families like Dorothy Nelson, whose great-grandson is being treated at Texas Children’s for sickle cell anemia, she admits the robot has benefited her just as much as it has benefitted her grandson.

“His reaction to the robot was unbelievable, as though he was really talking to a human being,” Nelson said. “And to see him getting happy and excited about it makes me feel good.”

The Greenberg family graciously donated the robot to Texas Children’s Hospital at the begining of 2017.

"We hope it is really successful and a lot of people enjoy it," Natalie Greenberg said.