Meet Nurse Mason, the robot that helps sick kids feel better

Nurse Mason is a childlike robot designed to make hospital stays more enjoyable for children. Photo courtesy Make-A-Wish Foundaiton.

Mason Gariepy’s dying wish to give back to hospital granted

Mason Gariepy wanted to be a nurse when he grew up.

The Prince Albert boy, who died late last year at the age of seven from acute myeloid leukemia, was inspired by the nurses he met during his hospital stays as he battled the illness.

Wednesday, Mason’s wish was granted.

With the help of the Make a Wish Foundation, Gariepy’s family was able to donate nurse Mason, a MEDi robot, to the Royal University Hospital’s (RUH) pediatric unit.

The childlike, humanoid robot interacts with young patients to walk them through their procedures. It plays games, sings songs and gives high fives while helping guide children through scary procedures and shots.

It can introduce procedures and specialists, pose for the camera and interact with a range of patients in an age-appropriate way. Early indicators show kids receiving vaccinations who interacted with a MEDi robot experienced 50 per cent less pain than those who weren’t distracted.

Mason Gariepy, pictured, wanted to help other kids and make their hospital journey more comfortable. Photo courtesy Bonnie Novotny Photography & Make-A-Wish Foundation

Mason met one of the robots himself when he was staying in Calgary.

“When we found out that this robot could do, (Mason) said ‘mom, my hospital … needs it,’” said Gale Gariepy, Mason’s mom during an interview Thursday.

“My hospital” was what Mason called RUH.

“When we came to Make a Wish just prior to his passing, it was the perfect combination,” Gale said.

“He wanted to be a nurse when he grew up. It could help all the sick kiddos just like him. It’s a good way to keep his legacy going.”

According to Deborah Waines-Bauer, marketing and communications manager with Make-A-Wish Canada, children using their wish to give something back is becoming more common. Other wishes include wishing to have, to go, to be or to meet.

“This robot helps children overcome their fears during medical procedures. It distracts them and walks them through the process in a fun and engaging way,” she said.

“Mason definitely wanted to give back to the children at Royal University Hospital because he spent so much time there. It’s a testament to the kind of kid he was. He was very thoughtful and very caring, and he wanted to help kids like him going through difficult times.”

While Mason eventually came to want to be just like the nurses he met during his stay, when he first arrived in the hospital, he found the experience frightening.

“He would always hide under the blankets any time a nurse, doctor or technician came in,” Gale said.

“I completely understand because it was a scary world for him. To see this robot in action with these kids, I think what he saw was ‘If I (had) that robot when I first got sick, my days would have been better.’”

Gale wasn’t surprised that Mason used his wish to grant this robot to RUH. Whenever he was in the hospital, he tried to care for the other kids who were also on their own journeys.

“For only being seven years old, he was a very caring individual,” Gale said.

“He wanted to help, he wanted to be there. If someone wasn’t feeling well, he wished they weren’t feeling so blue.”

When Mason would here other kids crying or screaming because of something happening, or because they were in pain, “it would affect him in his own hospital room,” Gale said.

“He would say ‘mom, I just wish they would stop because they seem so sad.’”

The pair had many conversations about how fortunate their family was to have financial and spiritual support from their friends back home, their family and their co-workers.

“I said we needed to give back because we’ve been so fortunate, not every family is as fortunate as we are,” Gale said.

“He was in complete agreement. He would have loved being there yesterday to see his mini robot in his hospital getting ready to go to work to help all of the sick kids.”

When Nurse Mason introduced himself for the first time Wednesday, Gariepy became visibly emotional. The day was bittersweet for everyone involved.

“Because Mason had passed, it was very emotional,” Waines-Bauer said.

“But very uplifting I the sense that through this robot his legacy will live on in the hospital and help other kids like him. We were very happy that we were able to make this happen.”

Gariepy is looking forward to hearing from the nurses about how kids respond to the mini robot.

“It was bittersweet because it should have been him,” Gale said.

“But this is part of his legacy, and we’re ecstatic that it finally happened. I hope I can hear some of the stories where this mini robot has helped these kids through some of the toughest times they’ve ever gone through.”