A video game is being developed in Metro Vancouver to help sick kids escape the tedium of treatment. Called Bella, it’s a breath-based app and game that helps children with CF do their own breathing exercises while engaging in a fun activity. It’s named after ten-year-old Bella Hood, a Tsawwassen resident, who has cystic fibrosis. Every day, she must do breathing exercises for 20 minutes using a PEP (Positive Expiratory Pressure) mask to help clear the mucus from her lungs. The equipment consists of a face mask with expiratory resistors and a pressure gauge.
Her mother, Jennifer Hood, usually monitors whether she is breathing correctly. Now, thanks to the Bella Project, an app and game being developed to help CF kids with those exercises, Bella can do them on her own. She is excited because it means she can bring the device to sleepovers with her friends, and her mother can monitor the data from home.
“She is expected to sit here and count the breaths, but anyone who has children knows that is unrealistic. So we had to nag, bribe and micromanage because it is really boring and she doesn’t want to do it,” said Hood.
Three years ago, they went on vacation with some friends, including Sue Boyles, who is project manager at Spot Solutions, a Vancouver tech company.
They started talking about how great it would be to make her breathing exercises into a game, one that is controlled by breath, and motivates her to do them on her own.
They recruited volunteer gamers and designers, and Boyles’ company came on board. So far, they have already made the mobile app that measures breathing on the screen so that children with CF can see how strong or weak each breath is into the PEP mask. The company is also in the process of developing a fun video game that will attach to the app and make the physiotherapy less of a chore.
BC Children’s Hospital is conducting a four-month trial with CF kids testing the Bella app, and then they will play the game for four months. Boyle said the game should be done in time for the trial.
Two years ago, Spot Solutions held a game jam for 75 local gamers, artists, and developers held at the Microsoft office. Spot Solutions provided the game platform and the gamers spent a weekend developing eight games.
Bella said she tested the games and loved the one about a rodeo where the player must use breaths to collect items. Another favourite is one where the player used breaths to race animals on boats.
Aside from just making their exercises more fun, Boyle said there is a potential medical benefit.
“The information (from the app) is uploaded to the cloud and there is an enormous amount of information for studies or parents who want to follow their kids’ progress,” said Boyles.
“It’s exciting,” said Hood. “Probably one of the most beneficial pieces of this project is the fact that the data is being collected and can be used in great research studies. If the benefits to Bella’s health is using the PEP once a day, in five sets, or if it needs to take a million sets to see any benefit, we need to know that information.”