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Need a dose of distraction? Some patients are escaping into virtual reality

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dr. Jaschar Shakuri-Rad, a urologist at the Mon Health Medical Center in Morgantown, W.Va., has carried out enough vasectomies to understand one thing – as he snips at the most delicate parts of the male anatomy, most of his patients would rather be just about anywhere else.

And Shakuri-Rad now has a way to help them do just that.

Rather than staring at the ceiling, doing their best to think about their favorite vacation spot or the greatest triumphs of their favorite sports team, patients who request them can slip on virtual reality goggles and be transported to places far beyond the sterility and stress of a hospital.

They can look at art, wander down Morgantown streets, slip inside West Virginia University’s Milan Puskar Stadium, or appreciate gently falling raindrops. Developed by Morgantown native Benjamin Gleitzman, who is also the chief technology officer of the online Healing Museum, the Mon Health Center puts its virtual reality offerings under an umbrella it calls MONA. Though it might seem a little too much like science fiction for anyone who came of age before the start of the millennium, it’s increasingly being embraced by doctors who want to ease their patients’ anxiety, and by the patients themselves, who find that being distracted when they are arguably at their most vulnerable is not a bad thing.

“Virtual reality can take your mind off things,” Shakuri-Rad explained, pointing out that he prefers virtual reality journeys with a hip-hop beat, but that the soundtrack can be customized to fit each patient’s preferences, and the volume can be adjusted accordingly. “It doesn’t have to change the standard of care. It gets multiple senses involved. It takes you out of that hospital setting.”

It’s not unheard of for some patients to feel dizzy or nauseous after going through the virtual reality experience, but patients can choose which setting and situation best serves their mood and constitution; to be sure, not everyone would find, say, rock climbing or careening on a roller coaster to be the best way to soothe frazzled nerves.

“It’s a customized experience we can tweak in many different ways,” Shakuri-Rad explained.

In 2018, The Washington Post reported on the use of virtual reality during childbirth, chemotherapy, kidney dialysis or wound treatment. Virtual reality as a therapeutic tool was first considered about two decades ago, but the bulky equipment of the late 1990s made it impractical. Lower costs and greater comfort have led such marquee institutions as Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to make virtual reality a part of their treatment regimen.

Doctors also say that virtual reality can help ease the opioid epidemic by deflecting attention away from pain. That means doctors might be able to avoid prescribing painkillers altogether, or at least prescribe them in lower dosages.

Theresa McSherry, a nurse practitioner in Portland, Ore., told The Washington Post, “VR is not going to resolve the opioid crisis, but it’s useful to have in our toolbox to help people be less dependent on medication in the early stages. This is a tool with potential to teach pain desensitization and coping that may allow a burn survivor to return to a better functional status.”

While virtual reality is not pushed on patients, none has refused it, Shakuri-Rad said. The Mon Health Medical Center plans on expanding the use of virtual reality into its infusion center and other departments.

“We’re treating the mind, body and spirit,” Shakuri-Rad said.


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VetFest bring services to Wild Things Park

Iraq War veteran John Corl said he bounced around homeless shelters until he sought services from the Wounded Warrior Project in Pittsburgh.

The Green Tree man said getting help for his service-related issues brought him to the point where he’s now ready to enroll in college and gain employment.

“Wounded Warrior helped me,” Corl said Saturday at VetFest at Wild Things Park in North Franklin Township.

He said veterans services “got me back on my feet.”

VetFest, a project of Wounded Warrior, brought numerous vendors that offer services to veterans Saturday to Washington County because it is a midway point between Pittsburgh and Wheeling and Morgantown in West Virginia, said Shawn Seguin, an outreach specialist with the project.

“It’s an amazing location, Seguin said. “This area loves veterans. They treat them right.”

He said about 300 people were expected to visit the festival, where a band performed and vendors reached out to veterans with services ranging from suicide prevention to employers that are hiring.

Representatives from the Veterans Affairs’ new outpatient clinic in Washington were there to guide people to local health care so they don’t have to find transportation to Pittsburgh.

“We’ve had quite a few people,” said Maureen Griffin, a social worker at the clinic at 95 W. Beau St.

Veterans who are enrolled in the VA can receive a wide range of services in Washington, including suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress treatment and physical examinations.

Saturday’s event also included classes where veterans were taught how to prepare résumés and “sell yourself to a company,” Seguin said.

He said Pennsylvania has the third highest number of veterans of the National Guard in the nation, and many of them need housing or mental health services.

“We went big,” he said.


courtesy of Fallowfield Township Volunteer Fire Company 

courtesy of Fallowfield Township Volunteer Fire Company

Shown is the scene of a second accident early Saturday along Interstate 70 in Fallowfield Township.


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California man accused of breaking infant's leg

CALIFORNIA – A California Borough man is in custody on charges he broke his 3-month-old son’s legs and had caused the infant other fractures that physicians labeled a “pattern of abuse,” court documents allege.

District Judge Curtis Thompson arraigned the father, Demetrick Ray Montgomery Sr., 39, Friday in the case, sending him to Washington County jail on $35,000 bail.

Montgomery is accused of initially saying the infant was injured in a fall while he was changing the baby’s diaper prior to 3 p.m. May 17, borough police stated in the affidavit.

The couple decided at that time not to take the child to see a physician, court records indicate.

They noticed about 2:30 a.m. the following day that the child was in serious pain and swelling on his left leg while they both changed his diaper, police said in charging documents.

The swelling and pain had worsened by 5 a.m., and again they did not take him for medical treatment, police said.

They took the child to an express care center associated with Washington Hospital about 4 p.m. that day, and were told the child needed an examination at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

They were offered an ambulance, but the parents said they would take the baby to Pittsburgh.

California police later were called to check on the baby after he did not arrive at Children’s in a timely matter, police said.

An officer went to the parent’s residence at 636 Park St. and found them and the child there about 7:15 p.m. The officer said the parents placed the baby in their car and they did not arrive at Children’s until after 9 p.m.

The staff at the hospital told police the fracture could not have been caused by a fall from a lap onto a carpeted floor, the affidavit states.

A further examination revealed the child had fractures in his right ribs and upper right arm, injuries that had already begun to heal, police said.

Eventually the mother admitted to lying about what happened to her son, police allege.

The father admitted to police June 28 to hearing a pop after he grabbed the baby by the leg when he was in sole custody of the infant, court records show.

He is charged with with aggravated assault of a child, endangering the welfare of children and simple assault. The mother has not been charged in the case, online court record show.