UK HealthCare

Patients are 'Breaking Out' at Kentucky Children's Hospital

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 11, 2019) – The stakes are high. The clock is ticking. But 13-year-old Dalton Green isn’t breaking a sweat. 

In front of him are a set of daunting clues, scattered throughout a cheerfully decorated holiday scene. Each puzzle he solves leads him to another, then another. Until finally, with seconds left on the clock, he opens a secret compartment in a fireplace to reveal…Santa’s hat. 

And with that, Dalton Green has saved Christmas.

That’s the premise behind the holiday-themed escape room at Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH). This unique interactive experience was created by the designers behind Breakout Games, a company in Lexington that creates themed “escape rooms” in which players have to solve puzzles and decipher clues to get out. The makers of Breakout Games brought the excitement to KCH as a way for patients and their families to “break out” without leaving the hospital.

“Over the summer we were thinking toward the holidays and what  we do to give back to our community,” said Cassie Dilly, director of marketing at Breakout Games. “We were thinking of KCH, which is right in our backyard, and how could we transform a part of the children's hospital into one of our escape rooms and allow patients and families who can’t leave the hospital during the holiday season to have a really fun and unique experience right here.”

One of the playrooms in KCH was transformed into a holiday wonderland, with a Christmas tree, lights and decorations. But there was more than meets the eye, as the decorations doubled as clues, puzzles or locked boxes. After a brief introductory video in which players are informed they have 30 minutes to find Santa’s hat or Christmas will be canceled, the clock starts and the race is on. 

“We got the first hint where to start,” said Dalton. “I found the Rubik’s Cube and then from there one it leads to more hints and more clues. My favorite was the xylophone because I actually do play the xylophone in band. I know all my notes, so it didn’t take me long to figure out what was happening.”

The Breakout room was set up in KCH for two weeks. After each patient solved the last puzzle, the game was reset for the next participant. The game makers collaborated with the Child Life staff at KCH to ensure the room and its contents met the hospital’s safety standards. 

“The unique thing about this room is we worked very closely with hospital staff to make sure everything in this room was suitable for patients here,” said Dilly. “Everything can be disinfected and everything is able to be reused again and again for the safety of the patients without taking away any of the excitement and flare of a typical Breakout Room.” 

The game makers knocked it out of the park, according to Dalton, diagnosed with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare neurological disorder that caused widespread swelling of his brain and spinal cord tissues, resulting in him becoming completely immobile and unresponsive.​

“I feel like it allows kids to be a kid again and instead of having to do treatment all day long,” he said.  And Dalton knows this well after having a previous lengthy stay at KCH. But today Dalton is on the mend and back at school, playing sports and performing with the school band — although he remembers what it was like to be an inpatient. “(At the Breakout Room) they can actually go and be a kid and not have to worry about what’s happening. It distracts them from why they are in the hospital. So, it makes me happy to see that kids are still in the hospital can do this.”

“It was incredibly special,”said Dilly. “When we started brainstorming the idea, we were hoping it would be meaningful to the patients here. We just wanted to be able to give back in our community in a way that escapes the ordinary.  To see Dalton playing the room and to see the excitement on his face and see the look on his Mom’s face, it was really something special. We are really honored to get to do this.”  

photo of dalton green playing toy xylophone
Dalton works fast to decipher the clues in the holiday themed escape room at KCH.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.