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Novant Health first and only in N.C. to offer the latest Penumbra virtual reality headsets during cancer treatment


Cancer survivor donates 25 headsets to the Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute

SALISBURY, NC – In partnership with the Novant Health Innovation Lab, Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute in Salisbury is the only cancer facility in North Carolina to offer patients the option of using a Penumbra REAL®i-Series virtual reality headset while receiving infusion treatments or undergoing diagnostic imaging. This technology was funded by a generous donation from Salisbury resident Samantha Haspel and her husband Robert Ring to the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. Their donation was made though monies gifted to them as wedding presents.

During her journey with an aggressive lymphoma, including undergoing over a year of intensive treatments and diagnostic imaging that spurred anxiety and depression, Haspel realized the value of virtual reality headsets. While receiving treatment at an out-of-state facility, she used a virtual reality headset as part of a pilot project that quickly distracted her from being in a hospital. A member of the Novant Health Foundation board of directors, she committed to bring similar virtual reality headsets to Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute. With her and her husband’s donation and through a partnership with manufacturer Penumbra, 25 headsets are now available to patients at Wallace Cancer Institute for a variety of capacities.

“Being able to use a virtual reality headset during my treatment was the mental escape I needed and was truly a lifesaver,” said Haspel. “It isn’t until you are fighting for your life that you realize the impact of the full treatment experience. I experienced firsthand the detrimental effects stress and anxiety can have while trying to battle cancer. Being able to focus on something else allowed my body to relax and be more receptive to the medicine needed. My husband and I wish we could do more, but we’re thankful for this amazing and generous community we have in Salisbury and to have the opportunity to bring the latest technology to our neighbors in Rowan County that they may not otherwise have access to.”

Released in August 2021, the Penumbra REAL i-Series features more than 10 hours of immersive content offering VR-enabled tools for cognitive activation, distraction therapy, reminiscence therapy, mindfulness practice and relaxation. Activities include animated, interactive experiences via the Serene Lake™ application and 360-degree video instructor-guided and self-guided travel and nature experiences. All activities are customizable based on patient needs.

In addition to having VR headsets in the infusion center at Wallace Cancer Institute, headsets will be available for patients in radiation oncology, as well as for team members in respite rooms.

“We are extremely thankful for this generous donation that allows us to be first in the state to showcase this immersive technology. Often, items such as virtual reality headsets are not considered essential to providing treatment, but we know this innovative technology can make a real difference in the continuum of care and can change a traumatic experience into something positive,” said Rebecca Smith, manager of radiation oncology at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. “We look forward to using these headsets every day as an extension of our mission and commitment to provide access to care, including to cancer experts, leading-edge technology and resources designed to caring for the whole person and for ensuring patient comfort and healing.”

Patients at Wallace Cancer Institute are offered the headsets during their appointments. For more information about Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute, visit NovantHealth.org/rowan-medical-center/services/cancer.

The headsets at Wallace Cancer Institute expand the current virtual reality offerings across Novant Health facilities to include headsets designed for adult patients. Starting in the fall of 2021, Novant Health introduced 10 headsets designed specifically to distract and entertain young patients at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte and Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center. Over the next six months, Novant Health plans to deploy dozens more virtual reality devices across the system for team member well-being, pain management, patient education and pre-op planning in partnership with the Novant Health Innovation Lab. Opened in early 2022, the Novant Health Innovation Lab explores, drives and accelerates possible technical integrations and strategic enterprise innovation to resolve team member challenges, improve patient outcomes, increase return on investments and foster community engagement.

For more information about the Penumbra REAL system, visit www.realsystem.com.

Posted on Monday, October 3, 2022
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