Wizdy Gaming Creates Asthma and Food Allergy Awareness

During my family’s journey with my son’s asthma and food allergy diagnoses, we were blessed to connect with Wizdy (formerly known as Wellapets).  The company created an educational asthma game that taught children how to keep themselves healthy, how to keep asthma triggers at bay, and how to effectively use an inhaler.  Better yet…it’s honestly a fun game to play that just so happens to teach you some things about asthma in the process.

For a mom with a young child, this game was my saving grace.  I could talk to my son until I was blue in the face about how to take care of his asthma, but nothing I said was as effective as what he learned through the “voice” of the game because he was taking ownership through a hands-on experience.  Thank you, Wizdy!

Wizdy is a Boston-based start-up uniting game developers, designers and doctors. They believe in gaming for good. Their games encourage healthy lifestyle habits and inclusion; tackling asthma & allergies first!

Now the company is in the process of creating a food allergy awareness game that is slated to go live on May 16th.  Given all that the Wizdy Pets game offered, I am seriously excited about the release of their new food allergy game, Wizdy Diner.

So for the last day of Food Allergy Awareness Week, please help me welcome Nikita Virani, the co-founder and CEO of Wizdy, to the blog today!

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

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The Food Allergy MomWhat inspired you to affect change within the asthma and food allergy community?

Nikita:  I became inspired to create games for health through a combination of passion, personal experience and exciting research. I’ve always been interested in population health which defines health not simply as a state free from disease but as the ability of people to adapt to, respond to, or control life’s challenges and changes. This passion led me to Geneva, Switzerland where I interned at the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. The biggest determinant of our health isn’t our health care, but rather our day-to-day decisions. I am interested in influencing these decisions. I believe in the power of aggregate change – the idea that it doesn’t have to be those big, epic moments in life that influence us.

I can still remember the exact moment I realized the gravity of an asthma attack. I was running in the GMC Championship race when, all of a sudden, our race came to a halt. I heard one of the runners needed to be taken to the hospital and that was all I knew until I reached the field where everyone was gathered. She had an asthma attack. I remember waiting in the middle of this field for an ambulance. It was one of the scariest experiences – it helped me better understand what my best friend who has asthma went and still goes through. Until that moment, I didn’t really understand how serious asthma actually is.

 

The Food Allergy Mom:  How did you decide on gaming as a vehicle for asthma and food allergy awareness?

Nikita:  An exciting moment for me was when I came across National Institute of Health research studies proving that games can not only teach kids about health but can actually keep them healthier. A randomized control trial showed that a video game improved adherence and knowledge in adolescents with cancer. That is very powerful. When my team and I saw that no one was doing this on mobile we knew we wanted to be the first!

 

The Food Allergy Mom:  What makes Wizdy unique?

Nikita:  At Wizdy, we use our games to educate by focusing on fun and embedding positive, empowering messages into our game. Fun is our first and foremost goal. We weave educational health content, created by our advisors at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, into our game in a way that looks and feels like a game, not a learning tool or lecture.  We speak to kids in their native language – games – to teach them the things they need to know to stay healthy. In addition, we use our games to send positive, empowering messages to kids.

For example, in our asthma game, Wizdy Pets, your dragon can breath fire and defeat the pesky smog monster after it takes it’s inhaler! We hope this message translates into kids viewing their inhalers as a means to unleash their full potential rather than a deterrent, limiting them.

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

In our upcoming food allergy game, Wizdy Diner which we plan to launch on May 16th, players are rewarded for communicating and avoiding food allergies.

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

 

The Food Allergy Mom:  What contributed to you getting interested in food allergies and creating awareness?

Nikita:  Change is hard, especially when it has to do with your health. Developing six food allergies when you’re 23 years old is a huge change and this adjustment is incredibly challenging. My best friend since grade school has had asthma since I’ve known her, but she has never had any severe food allergies. This year, she developed allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, coconuts, egg, milk and shellfish. Her whole life was flipped upside down.

I was shocked when I learned she had developed 6 food allergies, but it’s possible to develop food allergies at any age. At the age of 23 she had to learn how to live with food allergies. This was one of the biggest changes in her life and an eye-opening experience for me. Her ability to embrace this big change while staying positive is truly inspiring. She had good days but she had some bad days, too. She felt frustrated, sad and had many cravings for foods she was no longer able to eat, especially pizza. But she got through it. She learned how to make foods that she loves, like brownies, in a way that she can safely enjoy them. She’s a strong, smart and inspirational woman and I am lucky to call her my best friend.

If anyone knows a delicious, tree-nut, peanut, coconut, egg, milk and shellfish-free pizza we can make, please comment below or message me – we are still on a quest for safe & delicious pizza!!

The Food Allergy Mom:  Why do you do what you do? 

Nikita:  On a company level, we hope our games can reduce the stigma around asthma and allergies and increase a sense of empathy within the greater community.

On a personal level, doing what you love is the most rewarding thing you can do. Launching a social enterprise is challenging and I am afraid I will fail. But if I do it right, I have the opportunity to empower millions of kids to take ownership of their health and go on to live many healthier, happier years. That’s too big of an opportunity for me not to even try. So here I am trying, every single day; trying to push the limits of what has been done to educate people, especially kids, about food allergies and other crucial wellness topics.  

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Many thanks to Nikita and the folks at Wizdy for their amazing work and all you do for the asthma and food allergy communities!

photo courtesy of Wizdy

photo courtesy of Wizdy

 

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