FROM THE HILL
WHAT UNC IS DOING FOR NORTH CAROLINA-AND BEYOND
Children's Hospital Gets Kids
the Right Connections
Ten-year-old Brittany Beal has always been a news hound. Her mother, Tammy, read the news-
paper aloud to her before Brittany was
even born and now, next to the Bible,
the newspaper is her favorite read.
Brittany's thirst for knowledge has
come in handy in the past few years.
Since she was diagnosed with acute
lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in October 1999, she's spent much of her time
learning about her disease and helping
others understand it, too.
For Brittany, a patient at N.C. Chil-
dren's Hospital in Chapel Hill, information about her illness gives her power
over it. She knows how bone marrow
transplants are performed and why, what
happens to blood cells when ALL
strikes. She knows how long she'll be
under treatment and that, although she
has been in remission since early in her
treatment, that ALL can come back.
All of the information she needed
was at her fingertips, on a special com-
puter network called Starbright. With it,
Brittany and children like her can tap
information about cancer and other dis-
eases and learn about the procedures
they'll have to undergo to be well.
"When I was diagnosed," says Brit-
tany, "I was confused. I didn't imagine
this could happen to me."
The curious pre-teen, who lives in
Mebane, says it took her awhile for the
news ofcancer to sink in. "They sent
me to Chapel Hill," she says, "and I was
in the hospital for three weeks. They
wouldn't let anybody in my room at
first, but on the fourth or fifth day, Dave
came by and told me about Starbright."
Dave Bennard is the Starbright man.
Starbright has given Brittany Beal information, support and inspiration in her battle with leukemia.
As recreational therapist assistant at
Children's Hospital, it's his job to visit
every child who comes to the hospital,
get to know them and help quiet their
fears about treatment. Starbright helps
make a tough job a little easier.
Starbright World, a private,
interactive computer network for hospitalized
children, was first developed in 1995 by
the Starbright Foundation, then headed
by filmmaker Stephen Spielberg. In use
in about 100 hospitals nationwide, Star-
bright links hospitalized children across
the country, so they can share encouragement with each other as they battle
critical illnesses. Critically ill children
connect with each other bye-mail and
in chat rooms, and they research their
illnesses through a series of interactive
programs and games.
Children's Hospital was the first in
the Southeast to have Starbright.
Since 1999, more than 250 patients
from age 3 to teenagers and their fami-
lies have logged on. Three areas of con-
tent - communication, activities and
information - provide hospitalized
children with tools to help them cope
with the realities of living with disease.
For Brittany, the computer network has
been the key to understanding some-
thing that has no easy answers.
"I woke up one morning with sore
muscles and I couldn't quit shaking,"
she recalled. "My doctor thought I had
the flu. But I didn't get better, and I
went in and they took some blood, and
then they told my mama I had ALL."
Brittany spent the next few months
returning to the hospital for treatments
S epI e",b er/0,t0b er 2001