Coping with a life-threatening illness is a tremendous challenge for anyone, but it's particularly difficult for younger people. While most kids are enjoying the typical trappings of childhood, these young people are faced with the life-changing realities of doctors and specialists, poking and testing, and extended hospital stays.
It's a difficult situation even under the best of circumstances, but many medical professionals are looking for ways to improve the experience. Cook Children's Health Care System in Texas is one of a handful of exceptionally progressive organizations working to change the way young people are cared for. Catering exclusively to children from newborn to age 18, Cook Children's has ranked consistently among the top health care facilities in the US, as well as one of the best places to work in the nation. "They have a very forward thinking philosophy here at Cook Children's," explains Shawn Griffith, Cook Children's Broadcast Studio Producer. "The promise is that every child's life is sacred, and we will do whatever it takes to improve the health of every child." Part of that philosophy is to promote an environment that helps to promote normalcy and reduce the stress of the hospital routine. Griffith is part of the staff running the hospital's Child Life Zone, a 2400-square-foot facility that is open to patients and their families. As he explains, the CLZ is a self-declared "no owie" zone. "A patient who's going through a stressful round of chemo treatment can come down to the Child Life Zone in their gown and PJs, and even though they may be pushing an IV pole, they can walk in here and be a kid again. They can play pool, video games, read books, meet their friends, get a plate of nachos - basically, they can do things that are part of normal life. It gives them a respite from this overwhelming experience they're going through, and through that process they begin to heal, and more rapidly." The Child Life Zone is also home to a state-of-the-art multi-track recording studio and TV broadcast facility with multiple cameras and full HD ingest and playout capabilities. As Griffith observes, the facility is key to the healing process. "The kids participate in every aspect of the station's operation, and that's exceptionally empowering for them. We create all the content ourselves, and we tailor it to the kids. We have game shows, talk shows, cooking shows, science shows, music shows, even a morning news and talk show." The studio is outfitted with Panasonic pedestal cameras and several remote cams, as well as a Mac Pro for ingest and another for playout. Both Macs are outfitted with ToolsOnAir's Broadcast Suite, a virtual TV Station in a Box that has dramatically changed the station's workflow and production capabilities. Using ToolsOnAir's just:in, the CLZ crew can easily involve every patient in the creative process, "The kids can decide to do a show on pretty much anything that interests them, and we help them put it together," Griffith explains. "They can host it here in the studio, or we can even bring our cameras into their room and enable them to become part of the action." Griffith points to the story of one patient who, he says, is fairly typical. "We had one girl, confined to isolation, who was teaching herself origami while she was here. When I first went in to talk to her about it, the room was dark, the drapes were pulled, she was under the covers, just sitting there feeling gloomy. We took gear to her room, and had her host a show on origami right from her bed, and she just opened up. A couple of the nurses said to her, 'hey, I saw you on TV, you're a rock star!' It changed everything for her. When I go and visit her now, her drapes are open, she's dressing in flowery PJs, and she's always excited to show me her next project. It's a total 180-degree turnaround." Griffith cites the stability of ToolsOnAir's MacOS-based solution as an equally important factor for CLZ. "We've attempted this kind of programming with other products, and the reliability simply wasn't there. There's nothing worse than going into a child's room, getting set up, and then having to make them wait or cancel it because we've got technical difficulty." ToolsOnAir's just:play is used to create the playlists that keep the station running 24/7. "The workflow is so easy, the kids can come in here and in a few minutes they've learned how to put together a playlist," says Griffith. "They sit down with me and we talk about what shows they liked, and they pick their favorite episodes. We have station IDs we've created with famous athletes, actors, and local celebrities, and they drag those into the timeline as well. I get them started on it, walk away for five minutes, and when I get back they've put together a full day's playlist. They see the results, and they can say, 'hey, I did that!' That makes a world of difference." The live graphics capabilities of just:play are another aspect of the program that help to create a unique atmosphere for the kids, some of whom are in quarantine for weeks at a time. "During a live show, we've got kids watching up in their rooms who will call down to us and ask to give a shout out to a buddy in another room, or to their nurse, or someone else on staff. In about 30 seconds, I can put up a lower third with that shout out, and it's a great way for the kids to feel like they're not so isolated." Aside from versatility and a faster, more efficient workflow, Griffith says the ToolsOnAir system has enabled CLZ-TV to maintain a higher level of production value. "The ease of use and production quality we're able to achieve is beyond anything we've been able to reach before now." As Griffith observes, the CLZ-TV facility has a far deeper impact on these young patients than simply passing the time. "We know that a child at play heals faster than a child who doesn't. For most of these kids, them come in here and are overwhelmed by the whole hospital experience. For them, being able to participate in something like CLZ is empowering and motivating. Now they suddenly have something to look forward to. These kids are having a blast, and we couldn't do it without the ToolsOnAir system."