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This Start Up is Harnessing The Healing Power of Virtual Reality

Business

It's an unfortunate reality. Everyone either has been, or knows someone who has been affected by cancer or another serious illness. Most of us can relate to the hardships of watching a loved one suffer from the emotional ups and downs of this difficult journey. However, if entrepreneur Diane Jooris has anything to do with it, there may be a way to lessen the pain. Based on new research into the healing power of virtual reality, her company, Oncomfort, is designed to help alleviate the anxieties of medical procedures and treatments.


According to CNN, "immersive virtual reality systems are starting to be developed for use by patients during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings. Addiction in the digital age. The idea is that by placing oneself in this highly immersive virtual world, we are distracted from the painful experience."

Jooris is a wife and a mother of three with a master's degree in clinical psychology and a specialization in hypnosis. Jooris is also a forward-thinking health entrepreneur who is looking to technology to help ease the pain of long-term care.

“I've always been extremely impressed by the impacts that the mind can have on the body and what we can do only by turning our thoughts and our minds in a different direction," she says.

“We won't close the door for anyone… we are there for everybody."

Jooris has been working with medical patients as a volunteer, mental health professional and researcher for the past twenty years. In the last four years she has been working as a specialist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was also four years ago that Jooris' sister was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon Jooris witnessed first-hand the exhaustion and physiological effects of cancer treatment, which when combined make it difficult for patients to get the emotional support they need. It was then that the idea of Oncomfort was first born.

Through her specialties in hypnosis, Jooris knew the effect that the hypnosis techniques can have on patients. Unfortunately, that is quite often too limited for patients such as Jooris' sister who aren't able to get to a doctor's office. After experimenting with hypnosis audio recordings, Jooris realized that there needed to be another component--virtual reality.

“You need to have something that compensates and counterbalances [a real live person]."

With virtual reality, the patient is fully immersed into a situation that is removed from whatever procedure they are going through. The main goal is to put the patient through a state of disassociation through a “different" environment. While listening solely to an audio, 15% of people don't have the skills to come up with a visual on their own, which is why the virtual reality itself is so important.

While in Houston, Jooris was introduced to Joowon Kim, a previous founder of virtual reality game company. Together, the two identified the needs of both doctors and patients, and then created a prototype to ship to doctors in different countries. After receiving feedback from the doctors, they adapted the prototype to try on patients, where they received even more feedback. It's this ongoing process that keeps the product thoroughly improving.

“Passion is major, and if you have a vision, and your main goal is genuine… I think you are able to make things happen."

Jooris says that she was with one patient who was smiling while on the operating table, and the patient said, “This is wonderful--I'm swimming with dolphins!" The limits of virtual reality are essentially endless. Without any invasive procedures or medications, these people are able to be both pain and anxiety free. Even though there is a lot of competition in the field, Oncomfort is the only product running in five different languages, offering opportunities for global use.

"Beyond studies of distraction, we are also starting to see other examples of how virtual reality could be used, and even incorporated into cognitive behavioral approaches to chronic pain management," according to CNN. "For example, virtual games have been used as a means of delivering exposure-based behavioral treatments for pain, in which a patient is placed in different virtual situations that they might otherwise avoid."

Starting a company is not easy work, especially one so heavily involved with both scientific and psychological research. Jooris says that you have to be part human and part octopus for such a task. You must have arms everywhere--you need to be able to handle finances, go through legal contracts, find voices, take part of competitions, and so much more because you want to be able to grow your company; and that is exactly what Jooris is doing.

Jooris and Kim are hoping that within six more months, the company and product will be more widely distributed throughout multiple countries and more well known. Oncomfort isn't only limited to oncology patients, either. The goal is to have it available for anyone who needs it, whether it be through other medical procedures or even dealing with regular stress.

And her final advice for everybody? Stay motivated. Choose your battles, and know your priorities--the rest will come afterwards.

6 Min Read
Politics

All My Life I've Had To Fight

I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.

African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.

I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."

While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.

We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:

If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.

If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.

If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.

If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.

We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.

People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.