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By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
At a first meeting, Braylei Shiriaev is like most 7-year-old girls. She likes pinks and purples, stuffed animals and unicorns. In fact, she is very fond of unicorns because she believes they are magical.
When Braylei became a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, her treatments for radiation therapy were delivered at a nearby adult facility - IU Health University Hospital. Radiation therapy is specialized and involves expensive equipment. Some patients may require anesthesia so it’s all located in the same place - at an IU Health adult academic center location.
Patients and families can have regular appointments at Riley Hospital and stay at the Ronald McDonald House if necessary. When they come for their treatments - which are generally consecutive days - they take an enclosed walkway to University Hospital.
“They come from all over because there is no other facility that offers this. We have patients from all over the state,” said Jodi Blevins, Radiation Oncology Manager.
And the treatment goes way beyond machines. In fact, for some younger patients the machines can be scary. That’s why unicorns are important. So are sports heroes and Disney characters.
A team of radiation therapists helps calm younger patients by tapping into their interests. The therapy requires patients to remain very still so they receive the smallest dose targeted at a specific area. To help with that process, team members design personalized immobilization masks for the patients.
“There are a lot of people on the team who take the masks home to decorate them on their own time,” said Blevins. For Braylei, that mask was a unicorn. She uses the same mask for every treatment to help hold her still when receiving radiation therapy for a brain tumor. The mask is also used as a mapping tool so the markings aren’t on her face and head.
Like many of the young patients, Braylei passes the time during radiation by watching a movie on an Avatar system. The special design was created with the help of the IU Health 3D Innovations lab.
On an initial visit, team members talk to the patients and learn their likes and interests. One therapist, Jamie Copp dressed in a unicorn costume. Others, including Copp, Brandon Alyea, Tracy Durcholz, and Jenna Snyder have worn tiaras for their patients.
“Our team goes above and beyond for these pediatric cases,” said Blevins. “They lend support to both the kiddos and their parents to help make something that is scary more manageable.”