Helping sick kids cope through play

1 January 2024 | Expected time to read: 3 minutes

For many children, having an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan can be a scary experience, especially if they haven’t had a medical procedure before. 

Although MRI scans are generally safe and painless, they are highly sensitive to motion. This means that even the slightest movement like the scratch of an arm can result in unclear images. For children, the loud noises and small space inside the machine can be overwhelming, making it difficult to remain still. To avoid the need for general anaesthesia (GA), it is important for the patient to remain as calm and still as possible. 

The Mock MRI Program at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) was developed by Child Life Therapy (CLT) alongside the Medical Imaging team. It is an educational play-based program which uses a mock MRI scanner for kids to practice their scan. These sessions are also used by Child Life Therapists to see how a child can best copes with the sounds, lights and space of an MRI without the use of GA before. The therapist then passes on these learnings to the Medical Imaging team.

Sarah Scott, the Co-Head of Department of CLT at CHW says there are many benefits to using child-friendly and age-appropriate language and resources in a simulated environment to explain MRIs.

“The Mock MRI Program has reduced GA waitlists for MRI procedures and the costs associated with GA MRI’s and inpatient stays, improved time to diagnosis and decreased patient and family stress and anxiety for children aged between 4 and 8 years with a 94 per cent success rate."

Now, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation is calling on our Movement of Many to help more families like Zara’s access the Mock MRI Program.

In September 2023, Zara was admitted to CHW for tests after she started regularly fainting. A test recording the electrical signals of the brain (i.e. Electroencephalogram) showed abnormalities, so an MRI was needed to investigate the cause.

When Stacey, Zara’s mum, was told that her daughter required her first ever MRI, she knew it would be challenging for her.

“Child Life Therapists prepared Zara on what to expect during a real MRI - what the machine looked like, how it would feel and sound. She thoroughly enjoyed the mock MRI experience. She returned to the ward with the biggest smile,” Stacey said.  

Stacey says that the Mock MRI Program helped calm Zara’s fears and make her experience of an MRI more comfortable.  

“It gave Zara the skills she needed to undergo a real MRI successfully without the need for GA, which was a huge relief as it meant we were able to get answers regarding her health quicker
,” Stacey said.

She confidently walked in and told the radiologist her needs of blankets, sandbags, and a ball to hold. She even requested a movie to watch and what colour she wanted the room to be.”  

On average, 200 patients benefit from the use of the Mock MRI Program at CHW each year, through 12 hours of operation each week.  

To ensure the program’s continuation and growth, Sarah says fundraising is essential.  

“It is with the generous support of donors that we can elevate patient care by increasing the number of patients seen. This has the added bonus of decreasing costs and developing resources within this collaborative service.”  

Stacey adding that the positive impact that the program had during their time of need was unmeasurable. 

“The care that was provided during this vulnerable time was like no other. I hope that all children and parents faced with the prospect of an MRI have this opportunity to replace their fear with confidence.” 

As one of the largest and most trusted kids’ health charities, the funds Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation raises goes directly to the frontline of kids’ health to the area it’s needed most.

With your support, we can help ensure sick kids like Zara continue to have the best possible patient experience now and into the future.

Donate and go all in for kids’ health today.

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