June 25, 2004

VCH’s Go Fetch Web site builder keeps patients and families in touch with the outside world

Featured Image

Julie Black and her sons Jonah, 7, left, and Gavin, 3, look at photos on Gavin's Web site at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VCH’s Go Fetch Web site builder keeps patients and families in touch with the outside world

Communicating with family and friends all over the country has just gone high tech at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

A new Web site building program has just been launched, designed specifically to reduce stress and increase fun for the children and families experiencing longer stays at the hospital.

The Web site building program is available through computers in most patients’ rooms on the “Go Fetch” portion of www.vanderbiltchildrens. com.

The Go Fetch Web site builder was funded by The Christie Cookie Company and put together specifically for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital by MonsterLabs.com, a local Web company.

Julie Black is familiar with the routine at VCH. Her son, Gavin, now 3, had a heart transplant here when he was an infant. Now he’s back with stomach tumors. Julie is calm, despite the seriousness of Gavin’s diagnosis.

“With the heart transplant, my husband and I went through it all. We learned that you have to trust the doctors and be calm for your child,” Black explained. “They can sense when you’re stressed or sad and it makes them sad.”

The Blacks were one of the first families to test the new program. The Go Fetch Web site builder is designed to help families stay in touch with the outside world with as little stress and effort as possible. After more than a year of planning, the program is up and running, helping families like the Blacks keep loved ones informed long distance.

“My parents and my sister are in Maui, and my husband’s parents are in Grass Valley, Calif., so this has saved me from having to constantly e-mail or call them,” Black said. “I can’t call my sister usually because in Hawaii, there’s a five hour time difference and it’s hard to catch each other.”

Angie Paulk Atema, a Child Life specialist for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and the person in charge of Go Fetch, says this program is different from others because they designed it for children to use, while many hospital Web site building programs are more for parents. The program is used by Atema and other Child Life specialists in two ways: to help families reduce stress, and as a way to entertain the older pediatric patients and keep them busy while they’re in a hospital room.

“You go to the site and it walks you through building your own Web page,” Atema said. “There are other programs available to hospitals for their families to use, but we decided to build and design our own program to give options you can’t get through the other programs. We have more selections for themes, colors, characters and clip art, we have an option where families can post general information for every visitor to see, then a special area with more sensitive or private information that you’d need a special password to view.”

Julie Black said the Web site wasn’t hard to set up, and now she and her family have fun posting photos and video clips shot in their hospital room with the camera on top of their computer. Every day Julie updates a journal to tell how Gavin is handling his chemotherapy treatments.

Patients and families were involved in the process of designing the program and the Web sites offer unlimited space for photographs. Each hospital patient room is equipped with a computer with a camera on top, so filling the photo page is an easy task.

They also afford unlimited space for visitors to sign in to a guestbook.

Black enjoys “picking up the mail” every day and seeing who has been to visit and has left wishes for Gavin. She says it is saving her valuable time and effort to keep loved ones informed about Gavin’s progress.

“We heard from people we don’t even know in other states,” Black said. “Our family forwards Gavin’s Web site to other people and it goes from there. We’ve even had a card from someone in Germany.”

Atema says ultimately Go Fetch could host 80 or so Web sites for children getting treated at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

“I want to give the families quiet time with their children, where they can take just a few minutes to add to the Web site and communication is taken care of. That way they wouldn’t have to deal with 20 phone calls, or returning dozens of e-mails,” Atema said. “I hope it offers a small sense of relief that communication with friends and family is one less thing to worry about.”