SELP Project Helping people deal with the anxiety of Chemotherapy

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Ed Kmetz’s life has been touched by Lukemia several times. When he was participating in the Landmark Self Expression and Leadership Program, he created a project to help people fighting the disease.

This story is from the Pocono Record Writer

Stroudsburg businessman who specializes in high-tech entertainment is using his expertise in a campaign to ease the discomfort of area cancer patients.

Ed Kmetz (pronounced “metz,” in case you were wondering), is the owner of Pure Sight and Sound in Stroudsburg, a builder of home theaters and provider of audio, video and automation to businesses and residences.

He enrolled in the Self Expression and Leadership Program at Landmark Education in South Plainfield, N.J. It’s a course offered mainly to executives and business owners. His assignment was to go out in the community and do something good.

To choose a focus for his assignment, Kmetz asked himself “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me?” His answer: Being told, “You have cancer, Ed.”

Kmetz’s college roommate Doug died from leukemia right after they graduated in 1980. And a few years ago, Kmetz’s nephew Chris was diagnosed with leukemia, and is now in remission.

“My mind immediately jumped to chemo, which is three to five hours a week of getting poison pumped into your body,” Kmetz said. “So here you are, faced with the prospect of sitting in a chair for three to five hours to get this treatment.”

That was it. His project’s goal became giving chemotherapy patients one thing to look forward to when they go for their treatment.

Kmetz’s first idea was to put a 150 gallon salt water fish tank in the chemo room. That’s a big tank — about 4 feet wide by 2½ feet high by 2 feet deep.

He called the project “Fins and Flutes,” with the flutes being audiophile-quality sound he piped in from the ceiling.

“The hospital’s infection control people came back and said even if you have it (the tank) sealed, just one little germ could kill a patient with a suppressed immune system,” typical of chemo patients, Kmetz said.

With the fish idea tanked, Kmetz shifted gears. He discovered some research from Duke University involving virtual reality goggles during chemo treatments. What the research showed, according to Kmetz, was that patients who have effective distraction intervention with virtual reality goggles get a 23 percent decrease in perceived time of treatment. “That makes a four-hour session feel like three hours,” Kmetz said.

But Kmetz saw another benefit. “If this causes a chemo patient to go to a treatment they may have skipped, that’s success, one patient at a time,” he said.

In fact, the 2004 study was even more conclusive. The Duke University Medical Center reported that women with breast cancer have fewer adverse effects from chemotherapy and less fatigue when using virtual reality distractions during treatments.

Why? Virtual reality immerses users in a computer-generated visual and aural environment through a head-mounted display device. The researchers theorized that it’s an effective distraction because it engages several senses simultaneously and thrusts users in a new world. The result — it helps block out their current and often stressful environment.

Kmetz plans to provide three sets of virtual reality goggles, eight wireless headphones, a personal DVD player and three flat-screen televisions. He’s considering an Xbox as well. The total cost of the setup is about $2,700.

“With the goggles, it’s as if you have a 70-inch theater screen eight feet from your face.” Kmetz said. Patients will watch movies and may even be able to play electronic games during their treatments.

The goggles immerse the viewer in the action on the screen. If it’s a movie, after a few minutes, the image becomes more lifelike than a traditional screen.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Plug in an Xbox game, and the user becomes totally engaged in the action. The simulation of movement is so real, a race car game can be difficult to operate while standing.

But it won’t cost the hospital a dime. Kmetz is raising money through local groups to purchase the equipment, with is also used in dentists offices and other chemo treatment facilities. Scandinavian Labs, a Mount Bethel marine nutraceuticals supplier, was his first contributor.

Kmetz expects the equipment to be installed at the hospital’s chemotherapy facility by Nov. 9.

“This project didn’t end up the way I envisioned it at the beginning,” Kmetz said. “The goal of the project didn’t change at all, just the means,” he added.

Pocono Medical Center is only the first stop in Kmetz’s quest. He is already looking for funding for the next hospital. “I want to do 1,000 hospitals,” he said.

You can help by calling Kmetz at (570) 992-2992.

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