Housebound girl with an incurable condition experiences school thanks to a robot called ‘Princess’ that goes to class for her – with a live webcam link to her bedroom
By Naomi Greenaway, DailyMail.com
A housebound girl with an incurable heart condition has been given a chance at education – thanks to a remote-control robot that goes to school for her.
Lexie Kinder works from a laptop at home in South Caroline, while the child-size device, known as VGo, films her class in real time with a webcam.
VGo allows the 11-year-old to partake in classes without being physically present – and she can chat to the class, having her face appear on the screen and even controlling the robot’s movements.
Her school, Alice Drive Elementary, in her hometown of Sumter, also dress the VGo in Lexie’s pink princess clothes, dubbing it ‘Princess VGo’.
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,’ she added.
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 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 properly, causing her lips, toes, fingers and around areas around her eyes to appear blue.
Lexie had two surgeries to replace her pulmonary artery when she was a baby, but shortly after the second surgery Lexie’s was abandoned by her birth mother.
As a result, Lexie missed her window of opportunity for a heart and lung transplant or for surgery to replace the artificial pulmonary artery with another larger one.
Due to the severe oxygen depletion in her body, Lexie now tires quickly and requires oxygen administration after the slightest of activities.
Cristi Kinder, who adopted Lexie’s aged four, said: ‘The PA (pulmonary atresia) part of her condition means that all her blood vessels are very small – primarily her pulmonary artery.
‘Her pulmonary artery is about the size of the pulmonary artery in a six-month-old baby.’
During early attempts to attend Alice Drive Elementary, Lexie became extremely sick and was only able to partake in class for two weeks of the year.
But in 2013, Lexie was given a VGo, which costs around $6,000 (£3,985), to use by her district, which gave her a new lease of life. .
According to Cristi, using the machine has made Lexie’s life feel a lot more ‘normal.’
Cristi adds: ‘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 is 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.’
Due to her condition, Lexie’s parents are unable to put an estimate as to how long she will live.
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.’