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UCHealth offering virtual reality escape to chemo patients

While sitting for hours undergoing chemotherapy, new VR sets let Tark enjoy moments as a virtual spectator to some live Olympic events.

On his next visit to the hospital, Tark Yeager will endure his 40th chemotherapy session in three years.

“He gave me three months to a year to live. And he said, get all of your affairs in order,” said Yeager, explaining how doctors broke the news about the esophageal cancer that had spread through his body. “I killed 28 tumors with the chemo. I was able to eat a full-sized cheeseburger to myself!”

But the cancer recently came back. Doctors removed a brain tumor and Yeager’s trying to get rid of additional tumors in his liver with more chemotherapy at the University of Colorado Hospital.

For a stage-four cancer patient, he’s incredibly positive. His constant smile lights up the room. He makes friends with other patients and nurses. But the long sessions can be tedious and staring at the medicine dripping into his veins reminds him of what’s at stake.

“I know any day could be it. I could not wake up tomorrow,” he said. “Looking at that bag is sometimes hard, you know?”

UCHealth is the official healthcare partner of the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center which has given the hospital access to some of the technology used at the Olympics - such as virtual reality sets.

“We were able to reach out and say hey, do you want to be able to do something for our patients? Can we set this up? And Samsung sent some free headsets,” said Bill Smith, manager of corporate partnerships. “While you’re sitting in a chair in the hospital for a couple of hours you can dip your toes in the beach, you can go to the Olympic halfpipe and you can go to South Korea without actually physically going to South Korea.”

Yeager slipped the goggles over his head and was immediately transported to Pyeongchang.

“Always was a little crazy how fast they could get going,” he said, tailing Olympic speed skaters as they practiced. “Wow, this is amazing, man. Don’t need TVs no more.”

Some of the feeds are live.

“I am in the stands with a lot of people - lot of people here. That guy just fell down!” he said of another spectator while watching the Germans win a bobsled run.

When the Olympics end, he may disappear during a chemo session to a white sandy beach. A vacation dream he hopes could someday be a reality.

“It takes your mind off of what you’re really doing. Because it does get to you.”

To learn more about Yeager’s journey, visit his GoFundMe page.

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