Modality models alleviate kids' fears about cancer treatment

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Realistic wooden models of a CT scanner, an MRI scanner, and a linear accelerator are making a world of difference for young children dealing with cancer. When these children play with the models, they act out and vocalize their concerns and fears, enabling professional childhood behavior specialists to provide tailored interventional assistance.

The models are the brainchild of Kathleen McCue, director of children's programming at the Gathering Place, a nonprofit community-based cancer support organization serving greater metropolitan Cleveland.

McCue had always wanted medical equipment models in the playroom but had never had the funds to purchase them. That changed after the Gathering Place received a grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities to purchase equipment for the children's playroom of a second Gathering Place facility being opened in October 2008.

With funds in hand, McCue reached out to the companies that manufactured models of medical modalities. But she soon discovered that they either had stopped making medical equipment models or had gone out of business.

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Image courtesy of Allen Frederickson, Alcraft, Novelty, OH.
McCue then turned to Allen Frederickson, a master carpenter and owner of Alcraft, a cabinet-making and woodworking company located in Novelty, OH. Frederickson had designed and built custom furniture for the Gathering Place, and he accepted McCue's request to take on the assignment.

To build the models, Frederickson obtained product brochures from a major modality vendor. He also visited local cancer centers to see how diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy equipment worked.

"My challenge was to create generic-looking but recognizable equipment to scale, with parts that moved like the actual modalities, and that were sturdy enough to survive hours of child play," Frederickson told in a telephone interview.

Each modality model is designed to accommodate a 12-inch long Mattel Barbie or Ken sized-doll on its patient table. The largest model is approximately 26 inches long, 15 inches high, and about 6 inches wide. McCue told that the models are much more realistic and designed for interactivity with children than anything she had previously seen.

How the models are used

Each Gathering Place children's playroom has a "medical table," equipped with a variety of dolls dressed as patients, doctors, and nurses; syringes; stethoscopes; bandages and tape; intravenous bags on stands; and two of Frederickson's models. Children gravitate to the table to investigate its offerings and often begin to play spontaneously.

"Models are most appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 4, up to age 8," McCue said. "The models and other toys enable the children to spontaneously act out their concerns, anxieties, and fears, and they do so in a very intense and focused way. Young children like to use things that represent the real world as much as possible when they play out the real issues that they face."

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Image courtesy of the Gathering Place, Beachwood, OH.
In addition to observing the children at play, the staff providing therapeutic interventions use the models to explain the treatment that a parent or sibling is receiving, or that the children themselves will experience. Approximately 85% of the children who are referred to the Gathering Place have a family member diagnosed with cancer; only 15% have been diagnosed with cancer themselves.

The children are shown photos of imaging suites and radiation therapy treatment rooms. The movable models and dolls show how the equipment works. The objectives for the staff are to alleviate fears about the equipment and to reassure the children that the person receiving the diagnostic tests and treatment won't be hurt by it.

The Gathering Place also offers age-appropriate support groups, education classes, and social activities for children and adults, all free of charge. Approximately 400 children are referred to the Gathering Place each year by Cleveland-area cancer centers, including the Cleveland Clinic; University Hospitals, including UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital; and Metro Health Cleveland.

The modality models add an important treatment element, and the original Beachwood facility also has purchased them for its children's playroom. McCue recommends their use at cancer treatment centers providing support services to families and at all pediatric hospitals.

"Children relate to these models," she said. "They are helping highly stressed children cope with cancer."

Alcraft can be contacted at 14660 Winfield Park Drive, Novelty, OH, 44072-9669; phone, 440-338-8522; e-mail, [email protected].

By Cynthia E. Keen staff writer
October 27, 2009

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