Mohawk senior raising funds to allow others to use robots

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From New Castle News

Granted one wish, Cris Colaluca used it to benefit others.

Now, he’s building on that dream.

A senior at Mohawk Area High School, Cris has attended class remotely via a VGo robot since seventh grade.

In October 2015, he used the wish granted to him by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia to purchase a VGo for patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Now, for his senior project, Cris has created a Go Fund Me account to provide more robots for hospitalized youth.

A variety of medical conditions, including spina bifida and a rare seizure disorder, left Cris physically unable to attend school after first grade. Initially, the Bessemer resident tried home instruction and Skyping, but missed the interaction with teachers and peers.

“For seven years, I was isolated, had no contact with other children, and barely had reading and math instruction. My education suffered, and my family worried for my future,” Cris wrote on his Go Fund Me page.

That changed when Theresa McConnell, Mohawk’s technology director, learned about the VGo robotic teleconferencing system. Controlled by a laptop and mouse at the Colaluca home, the VGo features a camera and microphone, which allow Cris to see and be seen at Mohawk. Students and teachers can view Cris on the robot’s “face,” while he can see his classmates on his home computer.

“There is more to getting well than just the medical care. Being stuck in a hospital room, or at home, is hard. Connecting through a VGo raises spirits,” wrote Cris, now a straight-A student and member of the National Honor Society.

Cris’ account, https://www.gofundme.com/vgo-robot-for-childrens-hospital, details his plan to raise $35,000, which will provide three additional VGo robots to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“Unfortunately, (the Children’s Hospital VGo) can only be used by one patient at a time. I hope that by having multiple robots, children who spend extended time in the hospital can have the same experience that I do,” Cris wrote.

The project is sponsored and overseen by Vecna Cares, a 501(c)3 organization providing technology and training to support and strengthen health systems in underserved areas. Any funds left over will remain with Vecna Cares to cover administrative costs and other projects. If the goal is not met, funds will be used to purchase as many robots as possible. All donations are tax deductible.