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Robert Forman has always been afraid of needles. But that changed on what he now considers his lucky day, St. Patrick’s Day of this year.

Forman, a 29-year-old patient at Premier HealthCare’s Bayside clinic since 2014, successfully had his blood drawn on March 17. Forman was able to overcome his fear of needles thanks to several years of desensitization exercises he worked on with Premier's occupational therapy team.

“I am so appreciative of the dedication and kindness of the occupational therapy and nursing department that helped my son Robert to achieve the goal of, first being vaccinated, and now, the ultimate goal of having his blood drawn,” said Laura Carinci, Forman’s mother. “These are very important health issues for the disabled. Autism has its own sensory issues and rigidity to change, which makes this extra difficult.”

The desensitization program gradually takes away the anxiety of clinic visits by running through what to expect using visual and verbal cues. In Forman’s case, it entailed a simulated blood draw that was repeated during each of his visits and a visual checklist that signaled to him what comes next such as sitting in the chair, turning on relaxing music, rolling up his sleeve, and taking deep breaths.

The regular run-through of these steps created trust between Forman and his OT, Lena Kadota. Forman also built a relationship with Nurse Paola Jean, who did his bloodwork.

In addition, the team, along with Carinci, came up with an idea to make the clinic visit more appealing. Afterward, Forman spent a day at the Borgata in Atlantic City playing the slots – one of his favorite things to do. The day turned into a fanfare that celebrated the long-awaited victory.

“We were all screaming in the room and so excited and praising him, said Kadota. “I was initially skeptical that it would work because we have done something like this in the past. But I think this time we learned that if we brought out a lot of visuals and social stories and presented him with a prize right away it made a was rewarding to learn from the past and to have it come to fruition.”