Father develops cystic fibrosis game to help daughter

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Dr David Day with daughter Alice and colleague Dr Andreas Oikonomou
Image caption,
Dr Day said the games had completely transformed his daughter's attitude to her treatment

His daughter's treatment for her cystic fibrosis was something David Day used to dread.

Like the 9,000 or so other people with cystic fibrosis in the UK, four-year-old Alicia has to breathe into a tube for up to 10 minutes each day to stop mucus gathering in her lungs and digestive system.

As he saw her undergoing the boring and painful daily exercises, the University of Derby lecturer realised he might be able to harness the expertise of his colleagues to ease her suffering.

Now they have developed a range of computer games to help Alicia endure her treatment, which he hopes could benefit other children with the condition.

The games involve a device which connects breathing tubes to the computer so children can control characters and shapes on screen by exhaling at a certain pressure.

'Cry and scream'

Dr Day said, despite the importance of the treatment, sitting his daughter down for it had been getting increasingly difficult.

"There were a lot of tantrums. Every evening she would cry and scream and run off and it was getting progressively worse the older she got.

Image caption,
Children can control characters and shapes on screen by exhaling at a certain pressure

"It was no fun at all. It was something you knew was coming and you would have to get it done before you could relax. It was a nightmare."

Struggling for a solution, Dr Day came up with the idea of using the expertise of his workmates at the University of Derby's School of Mathematics and Computing.

He said: "We'd been watching what was happening with kinetic consoles like the Wii.

"I thought a game might be a good way of getting Alicia to interact and engage more with her physiotherapy.

"I mentioned it to the computer games team here and they said it was a good idea so we decided to proceed with it."

'Sense of wonder'

Dr Day and his team used university funding and European grants to develop a range of games which transformed the breathing exercises into something more fun.

He said the effect on his daughter was instant.

"She blew into the device, saw the flowers move on the screen and looked at me with this sense of wonder," he said.

"She asked me how it was doing that so I told her it was magic.

"She loved it and since then it has taken all the pressure and worry out of trying to get her to do her physiotherapy."

Image caption,
The games take Alicia's mind off her treatment

As well as Alicia's favourite flower game, the team built games involving pirate ships and flying dragons.

Now Dr Day is hoping to secure further funding to test the game on more children and eventually make it available to other parents.

He said: "We're hoping in the next 12 months we can have a version of this for sale to the public so that other children and parents can benefit from it.

"From feedback I've had, it seems all parents dread getting their children through the physiotherapy.

"It's a battle all carers and parents of cystic fibrosis children are having, so what we're doing is absolutely vital."

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