Project Braveheart


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Not knowing what to expect before having a surgical procedure can send anyone’s stress levels and heart rate soaring. For a child, the thought can be downright terrifying.  But now doctors at one of the country’s leading children’s’ hospitals have come up with a solution.

Like many teenagers, Zack Dwyer enjoys hanging out and sampling the latest in virtual reality. This headset is not just for fun, but a way to prepare him for going into the hospital.

“My heart rate was going about 260 beats per minutes, which is a little fast. I never experienced this before,” Dwyer explained to Ivanhoe.

Luckily, it was a problem his doctors could easily fix with a catheterization procedure. However, the thought of being in a hospital can be intimidating, especially if you’re just 17.

“He told me beforehand he was quite nervous about the procedure,” Anne Dubin, MD, Pediatric Cardiology at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital told Ivanhoe. (Read Full Interview)

Zack was then enrolled in a virtual reality study at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford. Created by Dr. Dubin and psychologist Lauren Schneider, “Project BraveHeart” aims to reduce anxiety in children having cardiac catherization.

“And so we wanted to think of a way to enhance that and maybe do that a little more quickly.” Lauren Schneider, PsyD, Adolescent Psychiatry at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital said to Ivanhoe.

“We basically walk a child through the entire procedure that they’re going to be undergoing,” Dr. Dubin explained.

In addition, the headset also provides kids with relaxation techniques to try.

Dr. Dubin continued, “Patients who have been using the VR experience come in they’re much calmer the day of the procedure. They seem to be ready for it.”

Zack’s mother, Kathryn, said, “It really calmed some of his nerves.”

But most importantly for Zack and his family…

“The operation was a success,” Kathryn finished.

Once the study is complete, the doctors will begin looking at other ways to use the VR device beyond catherization. The hope is to eventually offer it to other hospitals across the country.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Alan Filippi, Videographer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

To receive a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at:





REPORT:       MB #4295

BACKGROUND: Preoperational anxiety is a common reaction patients may experience when admitted to a hospital for surgery. Described as an unpleasant state of tension or uneasiness that results from patient’s doubts or fears before an operation, it can be measured on a wide scale. A variety of things can cause it, including; the thought of surgical failure, pain, loss of control, death, unsuccessful recovery, being in a strange environment, recuperation around strangers, anesthesia, “the unknown,” etc. It may be shaped by a person’s previous hospital experiences, or their psychological characteristics and how they cope with other issues. This anxiety can cause tachycardia, hypertension, sweating, nausea, elevated temperature and heightened senses, if severe enough. Some patients may become so apprehensive they cannot understand or follow even the simplest instructions, others can be so aggressive and demanding they require constant nursing staff attention.

TREATMENT: Treatment for preoperational anxiety can vary on a case by case basis, and can range from preoperative patient teaching or tours/information about the operation, to relaxation or cognitive behavioral therapy. Another treatment may be acupressure or auricular acupuncture, having family members present before the operation, creating nurse-patient relationships to develop trust, and even possible anti-anxiety medication such as benzodiazepines or melatonin. Also, the nurse or anesthesiologist holding the patient’s hand to provide support has also shown powerful results.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Doctor’s at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital have now come up with a virtual reality study which aims to reduce anxiety in children having cardiac catheterization. Created by Cardiologist Anne Dubin and Psychologist Lauren Schneider, it is titled “Project Braveheart.” Using a virtual reality headset, they walk the child through the entire procedure that they are going to be undergoing. Additionally, the headset also provides relaxation techniques for the children to try. The researchers have found that patients who have been using the virtual reality experience come in the day of surgery a lot calmer and almost ready for it. Once the study is complete, the hope is eventually to offer it to other hospitals across the country and look at other ways to use it beyond catheterization.

(Source: Dr. Anne Dubin and Dr. Lauren Schneider)


Kate DeTrempe

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at


Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Anne Dubin, MD and Lauren Schneider, PsyD

Read the entire Q&A