Gamers Outreach brings their ‘A’ game to Mott

Video game charity donates two gaming systems, carts to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital

University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital patient Kyle Sexton plays a video game using one of the Gamers Outreach Foundation's GO Karts. It was Kyle's first time using the Go Kart.

Kyle Nicholson escapes from his seventh floor room in the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital through an Xbox.

Nicholson, of Shelby Township, Mich., is battling leukemia and has been at Mott for about four weeks. He says the video game system recently stationed in his room – along with his favorite game, “Madden NFL 11,” – helps him pass the time.

“The screen is very nice,” he says. “It gives me something to do instead of just watch TV all day.”

The Xbox helping to take Nicholson’s mind off of treatment is located on one of two portable video game kiosks donated to Mott by the Gamers Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit charity organization that uses video games to help others.

For Zach Wigal, the organization’s founder and executive director, hearing stories such as Nicholson’s makes the effort and more than $3,000 that goes into each cart worth it.

“No one deserves to be laid up in a hospital bed for a long amount time,” says Wigal. “Providing patients with an activity that can keep their morale up is pretty awesome.”

As an activity therapist on the Child & Family Life team at Mott, Donovan Bowerbank’s job is to provide patients with a diversion.

It’s not always easy.

“The children are often traumatized with new a diagnosis or with several medical procedures that they have to go through,” says Bowerbank. “Being able to do certain things that are familiar to them like playing video games tends to put them more at ease.”

Demand for Mott’s video game systems is high and the carts donated by Gamers Outreach will give more patients a turn to play, says Bowerbank.

The first “GO Kart” came to Mott in fall 2009. A second was donated in February 2011 and brought Gamers Outreach one cart closer to its goal of providing Mott with five carts.

Wigal says the current cart design was influenced by Bowerbank and what he identified as Mott’s biggest need: accessibility.

Bowerbank took Wigal around Mott, showing him the various gaming carts and explaining what aspects could use improvement.

Wigal designed the cart himself after working with Bowerbank to understand how the carts are used in a unique environment like the one at Mott.  Armed with his notes, Wigal contacted a medical supply company and modified one of its medical carts so it could meet the needs of Mott.

“Usually we have people wanting to donate things they don’t want or use,” says Bowerbank. “We never really had a group come in and say they’d like to fine tune what we have and make it work efficiently for you. It’s been a tremendous help.”

Nick Russell, director of Project GO Kart, volunteers at Mott and often plays video games with the kids. He says it’s an indescribable feeling to see the joy kids receive from playing the games.

“To know that we can make a difference for these kids and help get their mind off of what they are going through is great,” says Russell.

Written by Heather Guenther