Playing for Victor: Video Games Bring Joy to Patients at Cincinnati Children’s

The Hill family (l-r): Clark, Dana (holding Henry), Audrey, and Greg.

Playing for Victor: Video Games Bring Joy to Patients at Cincinnati Children’s

The Hill family (l-r): Clark, Dana (holding Henry), Audrey, and Greg.

For Greg Hill, a senior application developer at Cincinnati Children’s, video games have long been a hobby. But when he and his wife faced the devastating loss of their son Victor, his passion for gaming evolved into a mission—helping kids cope with hospital stays.

Day after day, Greg Hill sat in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Cincinnati. For three months, doctors and nurses cared for his son, Clark, who was born at just 26 weeks gestation.

As time went on, he began to understand how isolated patients and families can feel. He and his wife, Dana, were able to sleep at home each night before returning to the hospital. But Greg was thinking of the many kids who had to stay behind.

He knew that if Clark’s twin, Victor, had survived, this would have been his reality—enduring multiple surgeries and long hospital stays that would keep him away from friends and family. Greg wondered what could help kids as they spent time in the hospital. Was there a way to bring them a sense of normalcy?

Beginning a Long Battle

Just months before, the Hills were excitedly preparing for the arrival of their twin boys. But shortly into the pregnancy, one of the babies was diagnosed with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), and everything changed.

Sometimes, this birth defect—a hole in the diaphragm that causes organs from the lower abdomen to move up into the chest cavity, affecting development of the heart and lungs—can be corrected in utero. However, with a twin pregnancy, doctors didn’t want to risk prematurity. The Hills met with a multidisciplinary team at Cincinnati Children’s to plan for care after birth and a long battle ahead.

Much sooner than they’d anticipated, the battle began. At 26 weeks gestation, their sons Clark and Victor were born, weighing less than two pounds each. Because the boys were so small, doctors were unable to perform interventions for Victor’s CDH. He passed after a short time as his parents held him tight and said goodbye.

Six-year-old Gabriel Vasquez plays a video game with Child Life specialist Matt Flynn.

For his tiny brother Clark, the battle continued. Under the care of the NICU team, Clark grew stronger with each passing day, but the process took time. During those three months, the Hills reflected on what they’d experienced—and how they would move forward.

Finding a New Purpose

Before Clark and Victor were born, Greg worked in higher-education software and government contracting. But as he watched doctors, surgeons, nurses, and administrative staff at Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati come together to care for Clark, a spark lit up inside him. What if he could use his skills as a software developer to do more meaningful work? Soon, he landed a job at Cincinnati Children’s, eventually joining the Division of Biomedical Informatics.

When Clark came home from the NICU, Dana also decided to deviate from her career path in corporate America. Her passion for the arts had become a vital coping mechanism and stress-reliever. Inspired to help other families, she started her own children’s music and dance classes, even returning to help kids at Cincinnati Children’s by hosting charitable classes at the Ronald McDonald House.

As Greg continued his work at Cincinnati Children’s, kids who spend weeks and months in the hospital were still in his thoughts. While attending a gaming convention, he heard about Gamers Outreach, a charity organization that provides equipment, technology, and software to help kids cope with treatment inside hospitals. Greg knew that this was the cause he’d been searching for.

Through the organization, hospitals receive GO Karts—portable video game kiosks built specifically for the medical environment. Each GO Kart is equipped with a gaming monitor, console, and games, ensuring that children have access to entertainment and coping mechanisms when unable to leave their hospital rooms.

When the Hills learned that Cincinnati Children’s only had a few GO Karts, they set out to raise money for another in memory of Victor. At first, they started small, asking family and friends to donate. Greg’s brother raised money with a walking tour of Cincinnati, while Dana collected donations at free Zumbini classes. As the $3,500 goal grew near, they began reaching out to others to help them cross the finish line.

“I was stunned by the outpouring of love from strangers,” says Greg. “We received donations from all of these people we didn’t know—gamers, people who heard about our story, and even Aaron Greenburg, the general manager of Xbox games marketing. With all of this support, we were able to finish the campaign and order a GO Kart for Cincinnati Children’s.”

Making a Difference for Kids

Before GO Karts arrived at Cincinnati Children’s, video games were kept in storage bins. This required staff members to know a lot about how they work—connecting them to TVs, finding the right cables, syncing controllers, and looking for discs. Because GO Karts were developed in partnership with hospital staff, they are designed to alleviate these burdens, prioritizing accessibility and portability.

When staff members roll a GO Kart into the room, plug it in, and hand the controller to a patient, it changes the trajectory of their day. For a moment, they are transported out of the hospital and into another world, far away from treatments and procedures.

Matt Flynn, MS, CCLS, knows this world well. As a certified Child Life specialist at Cincinnati Children’s, he works to make hospital visits a positive experience by explaining the care process and providing emotional support. One of his favorite ways to help kids develop coping, problem solving, critical thinking, and socialization skills is having them take on the role of a video game character. Plus, as a gaming enthusiast, it’s a fun way to show that he isn’t just another adult wheeling a cart into their room.

“I worked with one patient who very much wanted to beat me in Mario Kart, and I did not go easy on him,” says Flynn. “Every week, he got better. He figured out my style of play—my strengths, my weaknesses—and he kept working at it. More than a month later, he finally beat me, and he let everyone know it. In that moment, he wasn’t thinking about his treatment, the road ahead of him, or even working to get home. He was thinking about how he finally beat this guy in a video game.”

Of the nine GO Karts at Cincinnati Children’s, one is particularly special. This Kart has a placard dedicated to Victor Hill. Every time a patient holds the controller, escaping their hospital room to the video game world, Victor’s memory is kept alive.

“It’s difficult not to get emotional thinking about the generosity of everyone who donated,” says Dana. “After seeing the success of our first GO Kart, we are campaigning to donate another. There will always be a missing piece of my heart for Vic, but knowing that we are doing something impactful because of our love for him helps to fill that void.”

GO Karts, like the one pictured here, help patients cope with being hospitalized.

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