Technology provided '4 Kids with Cancer'
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For the Conover family of Mt. Lebanon, the heartbreak of losing a child to cancer has been eased slightly by an idea born during their son's illness, accomplished after his death and that is today helping children cope with illness while still being what they are -- children.
Along with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, the family will mark the 10th "birthday" of "Matt's Media 4 Kids with Cancer" and its partner Ansys, Inc. of Cecil at 11 a.m. July 26 on the ninth floor of the hospital.
Matt's Media 4 Kids with Cancer is an effort to provide entertainment technology to children being treated for cancer as a distraction.
Matthew Conover was 12 in 2002 when he died from complications of a bone marrow transplant to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
His parents, Noelle and David Conover, have three surviving children, Megan, 24; Alex, 19; and Anna, 13.
During his illness, Matt stayed on the hematology/oncology unit of Children's Hospital, at that time located in Oakland. Each time he was admitted to the hospital for treatment, he would send his mom in search of the only computer available to the entire unit.
"At that time there was no other way to communicate. Now kids have phones and iPods. If you didn't have a computer, you didn't have access to anything," Mrs. Conover said. "So when I couldn't get that computer on the unit, he'd spend a week there disappointed."
The birthday party will highlight the accomplishments and impact of Matt's Media, said Carol Ashby, senior major gift officer of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.
Jim Cashman, president of Ansys Inc., will present birthday gifts: iPads for each bed space on the inpatient unit for cancer patients.
"It all started with one boy," Ms. Ashby said. "Their family's experience here has changed things for many kids and their families who came after them. We have technology on that unit now, so no patient has to wait."
During the birthday party, a story box will be unveiled. The hospital commissioned the Children's Museum's Saturday Light Brigade to produce a story box in honor of Matt's Media. It contains up to 20 interviews buttons, which visitors can push to hear a child speak about what the technology has meant to them.
One recording is of Matt's sister Anna talking about what technology meant to him, Mrs. Conover said.
The first Matt's Media Room opened at Gilda's Club on Smallman Street. Gilda's Club, designed for people living with or touched by cancer, opened five years after Matt's passing.
"Our family really needed emotional support after Matt died and there wasn't anything. When I heard there was a Gilda's Club starting, I was excited that families would have this support," Mrs. Conover said.
After touring the facility -- seeing Austin's Play Room for toddlers, an art room, reading room and a teen room -- she was told the group would eventually like to add a "tweener" room.
"It hit me immediately that it would be a perfect room in memory of Matt. We donated the room and when the designer asked what Matt liked, we told him, 'Technology,' " she said.
"With their donation we converted a space to a dedicated area for Wii, Xbox, projection screen movies and some informal support. When the kids are playing those kinds of games, they cheer each other on and support each other. They are socializing and bonding -- the good things that happen," said Carol Lennon, executive director for Gilda's Club.
The Matt's Media Room at the new Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville opened three ago.
The playroom is dedicated to entertainment technology on the oncology unit. The room was made possible by a five-year donation from the Conovers along with funds raised through a gala held by the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women's Club.
The third Matt's Media Room opened at Foster School in Mt. Lebanon when the Conover's youngest child, Anna, graduated from elementary school in 2010.
This room isn't about playing technology, rather about creating it. The room is equipped with a green screen for making videos, a video camera, software for editing and eventually a big screen TV. The dedication for the room will take place this fall.
"It's been a great way to tell people about Matt. It's really hard to tell people over and over about your son," Mrs. Conover said. "Now I can tell people about the rooms. It's like a bridge to talk about your child. The reason why we are talking about it 10 years later is we really want to find a way to keep doing these rooms. There are more planned, and the next one I'd like to do is in a pediatric hospice."
She said she would like to see Matt's Media Rooms across the country and adds that she is looking for a technology partner to do this.
To donate to Matt's Media 4 Kids, visit www.givetochildren's.org and designate the Matt's Media Fund.
First Published July 26, 2012 5:34 am