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Adaptive gaming systems for hospital patients helps with rehabilitation

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Foothills Medical Centre is the eighth hospital in Canada to receive adaptive gaming controls and equipment to help patients recover and rehabilitate from injuries and disabilities.

Funding from the Calgary Health Foundation and Makers Making Change has allowed the institution to set up a Gaming Accessibility Made for Everyone or G.A.M.E Checkpoint space at the hospital.

There are Nintendo Switch's, Xbox and Play Stations for patients to play, with the hospital also having a 3D printer to craft extra custom molds for each controller.

Karl Sawatzky was living his life with his new baby and wife when suddenly his nervous system shut down in January.

"It was within a couple of days, I went from being able to do everything I wanted to do to being flat on my back in a hospital bed," said Sawatzky.

Sawatzky was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS, where his immune system attacked his nerves.

"All my nerves were pretty much shot, so I was  a full quadriplegic for awhile there in the ICU," he said.

Regaining motor function

Sawatzky has been regaining motor function within his arms and legs through treatment and therapy.

He is working daily on physiotherapy and recreational therapy, that includes stimulating his brain and playing video games such as EA Sports NHL24 on a modified Xbox controller.

"We've had huge demand for gamers across the country and people that wanted to get into gaming after an injury," said Tyler Fentie with the Neil Squire Society - Makers Making Change program.

 "I've seen that gaming has been opened up to them through accessible technology."

Fentie says the organization is looking at adding a G.A.M.E space in Winnipeg next to make it the ninth in Canada.

This is the first one in Calgary, and second in Alberta, with another in Edmonton.

"Social isolation disproportionately affects people with disabilities and gaming can be really that window into community," he said.

"In one year of this program, we've served over 450 gamers across Canada."

Adaptive to patient need

Michelle Haley, the clinical leader in recreational therapy with Alberta Health Services, said that there have been many patients using the system since it was introduced a couple months ago.

"With the equipment that we have received, it can actually adapt based on the patient's need.," she said.

"So if you get a patient who has got hemiparesis of the left side, we can actually adapt the controllers or adapt the games so that they can still play the game within their level of function and motor control."

Haley added that it’s a major tool in helping patients regain confidence and basic motor functions on their rehab journey,

"Just being a leisure pursuit in itself as well, it also can help with motivation in the rehabilitation process," said Haley.

"It's not so much of that black and white of the rehabilitation, it adds that little bit of fun."

As for Sawatzky, he is regaining strength every day, hoping to be home with his family soon, as he looks to be discharged from hospital on June 18th.

Sawatzky has been regaining motor function within his arms and legs through treatment and therapy. He is working daily on physiotherapy and recreational therapy, that includes stimulating his brain and playing video games such as EA Sports NHL24 on a modified Xbox controller.

"A lot of function has been coming back in my hands," he said.

"I've gone from being able to barely sit on my own to now we're starting to actually walk using a walker."

Sawatzky says it could take up to two years to rehab, depending on the patient.

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