U.S.: Helping Donors Overcome Anxiety at Central Illinois Blood Bank with Mixed Reality

Blood donor Nicodemus Laroche wears a mixed reality headset as Chad Sabin with ImpactLife looks on. Megan Spoerlein / WGLT / WGLT

A central Illinois blood bank is giving blood donors a novel experience to help take their minds off the donation process by focusing on cultivating a garden – with only their eyes.

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ImpactLife is a non-profit community blood center that serves as the exclusive blood supplier for OSF St. Joseph and Carle BroMenn medical centers, as well as more than 120 hospitals in Illinois and bordering states.

At certain blood drives, donors can utilize the Microsoft HoloLens 2 to play Paragon, a game developed by Abbott and Blood Centers of America.

“You get to put on the headset, and then there is a blue wisp named Willow that talks to the donor,” said Chad Sabin, ImpactLife’s community development advocate. “They introduce a sack of seeds that the donor will get to then look at the sack of seeds and plant seeds all across the room, so as they’re donating, they’re going to see these seeds start to grow.”

According to Sabin, several students who have used the technology so far have expressed relief and expressed a desire to donate blood again in the future.

ImpactLife’s Manager of Donor and Government Relations, Jim Watts, said the organization is testing the Microsoft HoloLens 2 to see how contributors react and whether they want to purchase more devices in the future.

“The donors can still see everything going on, our phlebotomist can still see the donors, but it allows them to escape just a little bit and distract them from the donation process,” Watts said. “We hear a lot of times that people don’t like to donate blood because they have a fear of needles or they’re just anxious about the process, so our goal here is to distract them from the process so they feel more at ease to donate blood.”

Nicodemus Laroche, an Illinois State University senior, put the technology to the test during a recent blood drive at Watterson Towers. Donors who suffer from motion sickness or wear spectacles, he says, may find the eye-tracking equipment challenging to utilize.

During that drive, ImpactLife reported collecting ten units of blood.

ImpactLife aims to use the technology during upcoming blood drives at high schools and other institutions to target a younger donor pool, according to Sabin. The next one is scheduled for Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at OSF Medical Group, 1701 E. College Ave., Bloomington.

“Even now, you have a 4-year-old who can navigate an iPad by themselves, so I think with our younger donors, sometimes the technology [makes it] easier,” Watts said.

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