App helps kids (and parents) get ready for surgery


Andrew Feng is a bright 6-year-old boy who loves to play the online strategy game Clash of the Clans and go trick-or-treating on Halloween. This Halloween, however, he will be undergoing surgery to remove a benign growth from one of his ribs.

Naturally, Andrew’s parents are a little anxious. This will be their son’s first operation and he might have to stay overnight at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

“For sure, we’re nervous,” said Andrew’s mother, Weilu Yu. “It’s the whole unknown of the surgery.”

The Montreal Children’s is hoping to demystify some of that unknown with what it calls the first interactive computer program of its kind: the “My First Surgery” app for iPads now available for free on iTunes.

Conceived by Montreal Children’s surgeon Robert Baird — who will be operating on Andrew — the app features content for both adults and children, using colourful computer animation and videos.

“How to you feel about your surgery?” the app asks.

A child can tap on a teddy bear with shades, labelled “all cool,” or one marked “curious” with a question mark over its head, “scared” for a shaking teddy bear and “confused” for a bear with a large drop of sweat rolling down its cheek. A new screen pops up after the tap, showing a cartoon surgeon (who looks a lot like Baird) telling the child in a soothing voice what awaits in the operating room.

“This is a mask,” says a cartoon anesthesiologist later in the app. “It gives you fresh air to help you fall asleep.”

Baird, whose app has already won a “biomedical innovation” award by McGill University, said parents often forget some of the details that a surgeon or nurse might tell them about their child’s upcoming surgery. The app, therefore, serves as a useful review tool for parents while offering reassurance.

Read the full story in the Montreal Gazette.