Robots Teach Kids How to Walk

CHICAGO A bleed in Jenna Culleeney's brain at birth caused cerebral palsy.

"She was 16 weeks early," Nannette Culleeney, Jenna's mother, told Ivanhoe. "She weighed a pound and a half."

"It's OK to be kinda different, you know," Jenna told Ivanhoe. "I'm a little different."

Jenna has had surgery to break and re-set her legs, but she still struggles to walk.

To improve her stability, therapists at Shriners Hospitals for Children strapped her in … and hoisted her up. It's a larger than life robot that's working to improve Jenna's balance and gait and teach her the right way to walk. The legs are specially designed for children.

Traditionally, two therapists would have to hold onto the child's legs on a treadmill, manually placing the feet in position.

"You wouldn't be able to get consistent movement in the child's leg, and you also wouldn't be able to have a therapist do that work as long as a robotic machine can do it for us," Sara Klaas, Director of the Spinal Cord Injury Service at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago, Ill., told Ivanhoe.

The machine allows children to consistently repeat the motion, strengthening muscles and increasing endurance. Smiles and frowns tell the child if she's walking correctly.

After six months on the machine, Jenna is feeling more confident on her feet.

"You can tell in the way she's walking," mom Nannette said. "Her knees bend when she's supposed to. They straighten out when they're supposed to."

"My walking isn't going to be as good as other children, but I'm doing very good," Jenna said.

A girl who's determined to set her own pace on a path to independence.

There are six centers across the country using the robot for kids. Therapists say it can also help kids with spinal cord injuries.

Sara Klaas
Director, Spinal Cord Injury Service
Shriners Hospitals for Children
(773) 385-5448

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