For bringing a special combination of compassion and technological expertise to the patients they serve, ChristianaCare volunteers were honored with the 2019 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteers Award at the annual ceremonies on Oct. 29 in Dover, Delaware.

ChristianaCare volunteers Stephanie Berkovits, Linda Downs and Sue Jungck accept the 2019 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteers Award from Delaware Gov. John Carney.

The volunteers, who partner with other caregivers to bring a virtual reality experience to patients receiving treatment for cancer, were among 32 groups and individuals honored.

“ChristianaCare’s virtual reality program provides a blend of technology and human interaction to create a positive distraction for patients receiving chemotherapy in our infusion suite,” said Margarita Rodriguez-Duffy, MSW, CAVS, director, Visitor & Volunteer Services. “The volunteers exemplify our values of love and excellence with each interaction. They combine specialized technology skills and the desire to make each patient feel loved.”

Starting in 2018 Volunteer Services partnered with the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and the Health Technology Innovation Center to use virtual reality as a technique to decrease anxiety in patients receiving chemotherapy.

“Patients began to view volunteers as members of their support team,” said Rose Wessells, manager of Volunteer Services. “Having the volunteers sitting with the patients during their experience offered a real-time evaluation of the VR experience. The feedback helped us make changes to the program that improved interaction and increased participation.”

To date, some 800 patients have used the positive distraction technique to take their minds off their treatment. The program has expanded to three other patient care units and earned the prestigious Magnet Prize from the American Nurses Credentialing Center in 2018.

Using virtual reality technology during chemotherapy, patient Blonnie Brooks “visits” a coastal area of Ireland at the Graham Cancer Center.

Linda Downs is one of the 26 specially trained ChristianaCare volunteers trained to assist patients with the 3D multi-sensory experiences.

Downs, a ChristianaCare volunteer and former oncology nurse, said patients may be feeling tension or anxiety, “which can be magnified by the sights, sounds and scents they encounter during treatment.”

When the program starts up, she said, “many times they will relax, smile and remark on what they are seeing. It is rewarding to elicit such a positive response.”

During the experience, patients can transition to a reality other than the infusion suite. They can feel as if they are on a beach, listening to a babbling brook, or walking through the hills of Ireland.

“Working with our volunteers has not only been a success of the VR program but it has also enriched our patients’ experience beyond what can be experienced with VR alone,” said Cancer Program Clinical Director Cindy Waddington, MSN, RN, AOCN, NE-BC.

“The volunteers show their care and compassion through their special knowledge, and they provide friendly company — a human connection to help soothe patients’ minds during therapy.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at ChristianaCare.