Every Friday night, 9-year-old Rebecca Kuo braces for pain. On “good” weeks, she gets one injection (methotrexate). On “bad” weeks, she gets two (methotrexate and Humira). The agonizing routine is part of the Little Rock, Ark., girl’s treatment for juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). For years her parents battled their daughter’s fear and tears until they discovered Buzzy, a pain diversion device created by an Atlanta pediatric emergency doctor.
“I saw the health care staff being stoic about their patients’ pain, thinking, ‘You just need to deal with it,’ ” says Amy Baxter, MD. “Since I knew there was something better, it was frustrating to know there was a solution out there. That’s why I wanted to give parents a tool.”
Dr. Baxter created Buzzy, a vibrating bee-shaped gadget with ice packs for wings that is placed on a child’s skin, then moved slightly away from the injection site before the shot is given. It works according to the “gate theory” where the combination of the vibrations and the cold confuse the body’s nerves, distracting attention away from the actual poke of the needle.
“Without the Buzzy, it really hurt me to have the needle digging into me,” says Rebecca. “With the Buzzy, I was thinking, Hurray! Hurray! I actually got something that might help.”
The device alleviates the pain of injections, but only helps slightly with the sting caused by the drug itself. Because of that, Rebecca’s mom, Kathrine, says the Humira shots still hurt some.
“Children report needlesticks as one of the worst aspects of any hospital stay,” says Sarah Leahy, manager of Pain Management Services for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “They fear needles the most. That’s why I think this has great potential. We are going to evaluate it in a few of our clinical areas and then see if we’re going to make it available throughout the system.”
Buzzy’s been used by children with diverse diagnoses. Six-year-old Tori Hunsberger has to sit through four or five painful Botox injections in each leg. The wheelchair-bound Memphis girl gets the drug to help loosen tight muscles, just one side effect of her cerebral palsy.
But Tori’s last visit to her neurologist was remarkable. With the Buzzy, she says her pain is cut in half. “We will definitely use it again,” says her mom, Beth. “I will do anything to reduce the pain for my child.”
Although Buzzy was designed with kids in mind, it has been used by adults for everything from fertility shots and IV insertions to finger pokes for blood draws and travel immunizations. Kathrine has even suggested the device to her mother who has dermatomyositis.
“With Rebecca, it has cut our stress level so much,” Kathrine says. “As a parent, you’re just grasping with anything that will ease the burden of this experience.”
Buzzy won a Medical Design Excellence Award in 2011.