More than 1,500 children will be hospitalized at Children’s National Hospital this holiday season, and a local app developer hopes to curb the loneliness patients experience by connecting them with others suffering from similar illnesses.
Elizabeth Tikoyan, a Fairfax, Virginia, resident, and founder and CEO of the Riley App, said the app is a social network in which people with the same health conditions connect, share their stories, get answers on best doctors and treatments or just be with someone going through the same thing they are.
She said the holidays are some of the loneliest times of the year, and the app is a critical tool to connect.
“You’re not with family, you’re in pain,” Tikoyan said, adding that the app helps “connect people going through the same thing so that we could at least talk, share experiences and relate to how lonely it feels during the holidays.”
Tikoyan said she suffered from debilitating illnesses throughout high school, and “got severely sick” to the point where she was bedridden.
Her constant hospital stays ended up being isolating experiences.
“All of my friends got to go on college visits, parties and really enjoyed their high school experience,” Tikoyan said.
She mentioned that her own high school experience was the complete opposite of her peers.
Tikoyan said she didn’t have anyone to relate to, but she knew there had to be someone her age experiencing the same thing.
It wasn’t until years later, when doctors were able to properly diagnose and treat her Lyme disease, that she came up with the idea for the Riley app.
The name of the app has a special meaning to Tikoyan. As a college student, she volunteered in the pediatric department at Georgetown Hospital and became close to a girl named Riley, one of the patients.
“Her dream was to go home for Christmas, and every time I saw her, her number one question was, ‘Will I be able to go home for Christmas?” Tikoyan said.
Riley was a bright presence in the hospital. College exams prevented her from volunteering for a few weeks, and when Tikoyan returned, the hospital staff told her Riley had died.
“I wanted to bring her star and bring the essence of her personality throughout the lives of our users through the app,” Tikoyan said.
Nurses, doctors and other hospital staff will have to work harder this year to try to keep spirits up during the holidays, as staff remain fitted in personal protective equipment rather than Santa hats.
The Riley app may be the solution for patients having a rough time dealing with their hospital stays.