I remember the night I found out about my dad's cancer. I had just started my first "real" job out of college as a GM for a popular pirate-themed MMOG. One evening, I got a call from my mother in the middle of my shift. I answered, hoping it would be a brief conversation: "Hi. Fine. At Work. Bye." Instead, she had something important to say.
"Dad just got back from the hospital. They found a tumor. It's esophageal cancer. He's going into surgery next week. Can you come home?"
The grueling six-hour surgery, wherein the esophagus is removed and the stomach stretched upwards to act as a new throat, went "perfectly" according to our surgeon. But the recovery was slow and painful. My father had to teach his stomach muscles to do something they had never done before: swallow. Then he had to regain some of the 62 pounds he shed while on a diet of intravenous fluids and soft foods. Getting back into shape after the surgery was especially tricky, since he ardently refused to join a gym.
Finally, earlier this year, my mom took matters into her own hands. She decided that this "Why-Fit" she had been reading about might get my dad off of his butt and exercising again. My parents didn't have much gaming experience, but it didn't matter. This summer, my Dad had his first unofficial session of Wii-hab.
Wii-hab is fast becoming a fixture in normal physical therapy sessions. It's being used to treat Parkinson's patients, those recovering from strokes, broken bones and even combat injuries. Gaming on the Wii solves one of physical therapy's inherent problems: The exercises are often repetitive and boring. Videogames introduce a natural competitiveness that alleviates the tedium of PT exercises and gives them a good dose of fun to boot.
St. Mary's in San Francisco has its very own dedicated Wii-hab unit, introduced by Dr. Justin Liu. In an interview with Kara Tsuboi of CNET, Liu states: "A spark went off in my mind that I could apply this technology to the world of rehab and really help patients with their physical deficits. It's something where something from my personal life carried over into my professional life."
Since beginning the program in 2008, nearly 200 patients have taken part in this special Wii-hab therapy. Though Wii-hab doesn't replace traditional methods, it certainly helps break up the monotony of traditional physical therapy exercises. The buttons of the controller help patients with their small motor skills, while the swinging and flicking motions many games employ help with hand-eye coordination. Games that support the Wii Balance Board also assist with balance, core strengthening and even retraining muscles.
Jamie Weinman is a recent survivor of a brain tumor. After her tumor was removed, the entire left side of her body was affected. She's been using Wii-hab to help with her balance and coordination. "It's more fun because you don't feel like it's therapy," she reports to CNET, "[Wii-hab] helped my leg get stronger, it helped me with my balance and coordination. The more you use it, the better you get, and it gets you excited to do it again because I'm trying to beat my last score."