Robo swot: Home-bound girl with incurable condition has robot ‘princess’ which goes to school for her
A home-bound girl with an incurable condition has been given a second chance at education – thanks to a ROBOT that goes to school for her.
Lexie Kinder works from a laptop home while her VGo – a child-size robot with a webcam and screen attached – films her classes in real-time.
The robot allows Lexie, 11, from Sumter in South Carolina, USA, to partake in classes without actually being there – chatting to the class, having her face appear on the screen and even controlling the VGo’s movements.
Her school, Alice Drive Elementary, in Sumter, also dress the VGo in Lexie’s pink princess clothes, dubbing it ‘Princess VGo.’
Shawn Haggerty, director of specialised programs for the district, said: “It’s a remote, telepresence system.
“The student can get the feeling of a school culture by remotely interacting academically and socially.”
Lexie was born with a condition called Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia.
Tetralogy of Fallot is a fairly common birth defect within the heart, and can normally be repaired with surgery during the first few years of a child’s life.
Pulmonary artresia, though, is a congenital malformation of the pulmonary valve, in which the valve orifice fails to develop.
This condition means that the valve is completely closed, obstructing the outflow of blood from the heart to the lungs.
As a result, Lexie’s blood does not oxygenate property, causing her lips, toes, fingers and around areas around her eyes to appear blue.
Lexie had two surgeries when she was a baby, where the doctors replaced her pulmonary artery with an artificial one.
Shortly after the second surgery, though, her birth mother abandoned Lexie, meaning the child missed her window of opportunity for a possible heart and lung transplant, or replacing the artificial pulmonary artery with another larger one.
Due to the severe oxygen depletion in her body, Lexie tires quickly and requires oxygen administration after the slightest of activities.
Cristi Kinder, Lexie’s mother, said: “The PA (pulmonary atresia) part of her condition means that all her blood vessels are very small – primarily her pulmonary artery.
“For reference, it’s about the size of the pulmonary artery in a six-month-old baby.”
During early attempts to attend Alice Drive, Lexie became extremely sick and was only able to partake in class for two weeks of the year.
Each VGo costs around $6,000 (£3,985) and when her district purchased three, in 2013, Lexie’s family were asked if they would like to start using the machine.
The family accepted, as Cristi admitted using the machine made Lexie’s life feel a lot more ‘normal.’
She added: “VGo has impacted Lexie greatly – it gave her confidence with her peers.
“Instead of being stared at for looking different than the other children, she was now being stared at for having a really cool robot named Princess VGo.
“VGO also showed Lexie that there was a great big social world that she was missing.”
When working from home, Lexie dials in at 7:45am and drives the robot to her desk, where she says the Pledge of Allegiance and the state pledge.
Students who see the screen light up shout ‘Lexie’s coming’ and classes then continue as usual.
Lexie said: “The best thing about VGo is that when I am feeling yucky, I can still go to school and see my friends.
“My friends love Princess VGo. They get really excited when I sign on and they see my face on the screen.
“Everybody wants to help me and tell me which way to go when I am driving VGo in the room and down the hall.”
Due to her condition, Lexie’s parents are unable to put an estimate as to how long she will live.
She was adopted aged four and the Kinders continue to take every day as it comes.
This school year, Lexie has begun to attend school more frequently, visiting for a few hours a day, three times a week.
Cristi said: “Her life is truly a miracle. She has thrived in our home, beating all odds and living every day to its fullest.
“Our family is forever changed because of this special little girl.”