• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Virtual reality game helps burn victims recover

September 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every year, 45,000 people are hospitalized with serious burns in the United States.

Whether it's touching a hot stove or drinking really hot coffee, we've all gotten burned one way or another.

Imagine the intense pain you felt for a second lasting for months and covering most of your body.

Now doctors are studying how throwing snowballs in a virtual world is helping burn victims cope with painful wound treatments.

Former Marine Josh McDaniel likes playing "shoot 'em up" video games. He credits one game for helping him through one of the most difficult times in his life.

"My face was completely burned off. My swimming shorts melted to my legs," said McDaniel.

He was severely burned during an on-base barbeque when a fellow Marine threw a flammable liquid on the grill.

"It splashed the chemical over my whole body, and I went up like a match," said McDaniel.

With severe burns covering about 60 percent of his body, McDaniel came to the Defense Department's U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. During his painful recovery, he volunteered to take part in a research study.

McDaniel helped Dr. Christopher Maani test out a virtual reality pain-management tool called Snow World.

Looking through high-tech goggles, McDaniel launches snowballs at penguins and snowmen through an icy canyon.

Being immersed in the "arctic" environment triggers the memory of cold, says Maani.

McDaniel says he forgot about the painful daily cleaning and dressing of his wounds.

"It was the only time that I actually did not feel pain," said McDaniel.

Maani says his study shows Snow World decreased burn patients' pain and the need for heavy pain medication during treatments, findings that could improve a victim's overall rehabilitation and state of mind.

"So we're keeping him more comfortable and reducing the amount of pain medications. Now, as soon as we take the goggles off, they're right back to being awake," says Maani.

Snow World was developed by researchers at the University of Washington.

Maani's initial Snow World study included six civilians and 12 service members. He wants to do a follow-up study to include hundreds of burn victims. He'd also like to develop ways to make virtual reality pain management wireless, more portable and more personalized.

Load Comments