Wednesday, July 17

UCLA pediatric unit to try laughter as part of treatment

“Take two Charlie Chaplins and a small dose of the
Simpsons and call me in the morning.” This is the kind of
prescription UCLA doctors hope to one day prescribe.

Hollywood and UCLA Jonsson Cancer center researchers have come
together in an unusual partnership to conduct the first project
ever to use humor as a healer for seriously ill children and

Former prime-time entertainment executive and UCLA alum Sherry
Dunay Hilber has joined forces with Dr. Margaret Stuber, professor
in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehaviorial Sciences at the
UCLA Nueropsychic Institute, and Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, director of
the Pediatric Pain Program at the UCLA Mattel Children’s
Hospital, to create and develop the national nonprofit, therapeutic
entertainment, and health education organization.

Dubbed Rx Laughter, the study uses laughter as a complimentary
and alternative painkiller that could treat a variety of ailments,
with the only side effects being giggles and chuckles.

“Laughter is international. It’s not news to anybody
that laughter is therapeutic,” Stuber said. “What
we’re doing now is finding out the mechanisms. We’ll
study the impact that both humor and laughter have on the immune
system and pain transmission and control behind laughter,
catalyzing and giving credibility to the usage of laughter and
humor in treating illnesses with hard evidence”

Rx Laughter is aimed at children and teens suffering from
serious illnesses such as cancer and diabetes that require long and
often painful treatments.

Now in its third phase, the study will be clinically applied to
Mattel Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology-Oncology
Critical Isolation unit with a combination of carefully-selected
classic cartoons and television, some Comedy Central programming,
and classic films such as Abbott and Costello, the Marx Bros, and
Charlie Chaplin.

The five-year study, drawing its support from Hollywood,
launched in February 2000 with a seed grant of $75,000 from cable
TV network Comedy Central. The first phase of the study determined
which classical and contemporary movies and television programs
make children and adolescents laugh the most. The second phase
examined the impact of laughter and humorous distraction on pain
tolerance in a small group of healthy study subjects and found that
children and teens are able to better withstand painful procedures
such as these as they watch and laugh at the funny programs.

“When you walk into a hospital ward, you find literally
nothing,” said Dr. Lee Berk, doctor of family medicine and
Assistant Professor Family Medicine at Susan Samueli Center for
Complimentary and Alternative Medicine at UC Irvine.

“You listen to the moaning and droning of the machines or
the patients next to you. If there’s a TV in front of you to
occupy the time it has the news with bombings and strikes, just
things that are psychologically dampening. Laughter can be an
cheaper and complimentary medicine that will only help people be
well and get better.”

A walkie-talkie system would allow isolated children to overcome
their feelings of isolation not just laugh, but laugh together.

This has never been done with children and teens at all and
would give children an option and a way to dealing with often
mundane and painful medical procedures.

“I’ll know Rx Laughter has reached its pinnacle when
children from UCLA receiving chemotherapy will be able to laugh and
talk to children at Johns Hopkins. The videos would just be a
catalyst bringing them together,” said Hilber.

While describing a boy receiving hemodialysis, Zeltzer recalls
“the power of laughter” when describing how the
patient, who was quiet at first, began to “laugh
hysterically” as he was describing the story about his
favorite “I Love Lucy” episode.

Laughter strengthens and motivates the seriously ill child and
teen by giving them a simple, entertaining, and painless way to
feel better and be more inclined to take part in their treatment,
which would ultimately lead to a faster and stronger recovery both
emotionally and physically, doctors said.

Most of all, everyone is their own apothecary.

“If there are certain tapes that do bring on outward
laughter for the patient ““ I think that they feel like
“˜I’m in control, I’m taking care of myself,
I’m enjoying this but as I’m laughing, I’m
probably healing myself. I’m giving myself a
prescription,” Hilber said.

To catalyze this research, a benefit funding the continuing
research of Rx Laughter will be held Sept. 27 at UCLA’s Royce
Hall and feature television sitcom stars such as Ray Romano of
“Everybody loves Raymond? and Kevin James of the CBS show
“The King of Queens? and standup comedians Wendy Liebman and
Steve Mittleman.

Tickets for the benefit are on sale now at the UCLA Central
Ticket Office at 310 825-2101 or purchase online at or

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