Taking a hot air balloon ride was one man’s dream. Due to being in hospice and being confined to his house, a 60-year-old was able to experience his dream of a simulated hot air balloon ride. While it may not have been the real thing, it helped him cross it off of his to-do list. The Virtual Reality (VR) hot air balloon ride took place in Stokesdale, North Carolina.
Wayne Knight is 60 years old and has terminal lung and kidney cancer. In addition, other cardiac conditions such as difficulty breathing require him to depend on an oxygen machine. Knight has wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride his entire life.
“I’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, but I can’t-do that,” Knight said. His hospice workers originally tried to make it happen, but due to being dependent on his oxygen machine it was rendered impossible.
Knight used to work in healthcare, a job he held for 32 years. Due to his cancer and problems breathing he had to stop working.
The idea to let Knight experience his lifelong dream came from Pete Overcash, who works for Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro. Overcash first thought of the idea of utilizing Virtual Reality, or VR, to give Knight his wish.
Knight was extremely happy with his experience. “These are the most wonderful people,” Knight said. “I have the most wonderful aide in the world.”
Knight was unfamiliar with VR before his experience. “I’ve never even heard of it,” Knight said. He got to sit in the privacy and comfort of his home in his chair surrounded by family and the hospice team. While sitting in his chair, Knight was awed by the experience. “Everything is beautiful,” he said.
The VR gave Knight the experience of riding in a hot air balloon from a 360-degree view.
The experience proved to be emotional for Knight who fought off tears. “When I was looking up I could see my aunt and my daddy,” Knight said. “I know they’re there.”
Jane Gibson, who works for Hospice, said that giving patients experiences similar to this one are important because it offers patients a sense of control and a means to achieve their goals with the limited time they have.
“Those kinds of achievements offer patients a sense of control at a time when so many things are beyond their control,” Gibson said.
Debbie Garner, who is a social worker for Hospice, was present when Knight got his VR hot air balloon ride. Garner defined the experience as “humbling.”
“It’s a very humbling experience to be able to see Wayne achieve his goal of riding in a hot air balloon,” Garner said.
Hillary Irusta, who works for Hospice as well, echoed similar sentiments and said that Hospice’s “holistic” approach to taking care of patients is a factor. Irusta said that giving patients experiences like this one “give such a meaning to their life, to that day, and to that moment, and we see that it helps reduce stress and anxiety and provides, as we saw with Wayne, a sense of peace.”