Robot interaction

By Ashley Rose for Cleburne Times-Review

When Nellie and Jimmy Hesa of Keene realized one of their sons was having trouble walking at the end of September, most doctors said it was most likely because of a pulled muscle or another type of strain on the leg. After their son’s left knee swelled up one day, they knew they had to take him to his pediatrician right away to find out what was wrong.

Tests at Cook Children’s Medical Center later confirmed their son, Shadrach “Boboy” Hesa had Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones.

Since the diagnosis, Boboy spends two weeks at Cook Children’s going through chemotherapy, and when he’s not in the hospital, he stays home.

He’s had to miss out on a lot of school work and interaction with his friends and teachers.

Future technology

Keene High School Principal Sandy Denning called and asked Boboy if he would be interested in using a robot to attend class, and his mother thought it would be a great way to keep him from falling behind.

Boboy starts a school day at Keene High School the usual way by getting dressed and eating breakfast just like other students. Instead of getting on the school bus to go to school he sits in the living room, logs onto his Apple MacBook to open a computer program and starts up a robot that he uses to visit each of this classes where he interacts with teachers and his fellow students.

The robot — Reata: Region 11 Assistive Technology Access — stays in Denning’s office when Boboy isn’t using it. When he wants to use it, he will use the program to “call” the robot where either Denning or another administrator will accept the call.

“When there’s someone around, I usually ask them if they can escort me to class,” he said.

As the robot travels through the hallway, Boboy is greeted by his friends, teachers and fellow classmates. He said when he first started using Reata to go to class, his friends didn’t know what to think about it.

“It’s good to see my friends and talk to them,” he said. “They think it’s cool that I get to use it. Usually they’re like, ‘Man, you’re lucky. You get to lie on the couch, stay in your pajamas and go to class. That’s not fair.’”

Denning said it’s mostly for Boboy and his friends to see each other.

“With his health being so fragile and all the germs and sickness, that was the main concern about him being here at school and being exposed to so much,” she said. “It’s good for him to still be able to see his friends and talk and socialize, I think.”

When Boboy started chemo, Denning wanted to find a way to make sure he didn’t fall behind in his classes. That’s when she contacted the Education Service Center Region 11.

ESC Instructional Technologist Tammy Motheral said they have 10 Reatas at the center for school districts to use if they need them.

“As long as we have a robot, we want a robot to be able to go to them,” Motheral said.

When school administrations realize one of their students will be out of school for a long period of time, they have the option to rent Reata.

“If anything it helps the students’ demeanor,” Motheral said. “It helps them feel normal again.”

From home or the hospital and using a computer and mouse, the student is able to “drive” the robot to school assemblies as well as to each of his or her classes. In class, the student will be able to actively participate in lessons, discussions and group work.

This allows the student to develop strong teacher and peer relationships, stay socially connected, boost morale, provide tangible benefits and receive quality instruction without falling behind on coursework.

The program uses VGo Robots, an innovative solution that allows students to attend classes via interactive video conferencing while recovering from long-term illness, injury or other factors requiring the student to be homebound or not able to be present in the classroom, according to its website.

Reata can be used for certain students:

• Homebound — illness, transplant, surgery or pregnancy.

• In school suspension.

• Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs.

Motheral said Reata Robots are loaned to districts on a case-by-case basis.

“All students, from kindergarten to 12th grade have used this,” Motheral said. “It’s just a wonderful program.”

KHS English II teacher Rebekah Stephenson is also Boboy’s homebound teacher and said the first time she saw the robot in her classroom, she and her class didn’t know what to expect.

“The first time he was in my classroom via the robot, we were reading our current novel,” Stephenson said. “At the time I was the one currently reading aloud and I tend to get dramatic in my reading.

“Well at a particularly dramatic part of the story I glanced over towards the robot and noticed the volume bar had appeared and it seemed to be going down. I turned to him and I said, ‘Don’t you turn that volume down on me.’ Everyone laughed and we went on with the lesson. I think I may have been speaking too loudly for his headphones.”

Stephenson said when Boboy is driving the robot around the school, the other students don’t really see the wheels or technology, they are just happy to see their friend’s face and hear his voice.

“His physical presence is very much missed at our school, but for now, we will take what we can get,” Stephenson said.

Denning said Boboy has complete control of Reata. He not only uses the robot to go to class. He also uses the robot to watch the school’s basketball games.

Boboy said before he was diagnosed with cancer, he played both basketball and baseball. Being able to watch his fellow basketball players during the games using Reata helps.

“I miss it a lot,” he said.

Healthy support system

When Boboy found out he had bone cancer, he said he didn’t think it was such a big deal.

“It took a few months for me to actually realize that this was something that’s serious,” he said. “My friends and family have been very supportive. The chemo treatments are better than what I expected. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to eat, not be able to keep food down. [The chemo] has been helping.”

Nellie and Jimmy Hesa both agree that they thought it was going to be really hard for their son, but seeing him with a positive attitude all the time gives them strength to not think negative thoughts.

“It has been keeping us OK, moving forward,” Nellie Hesa said.

Both have been fortunate enough to have jobs that understands what they are going through, they said, and members of the Keene community have also been supportive.

“Some people in the community put together a car wash to raise money for us,” Nellie Hesa said. “We had no idea about it because we were at Cook at the time. We came home and they gave us this huge jar of the money that they raised. We just want to thank everybody who’s been giving us support through this difficult time.”

Students at KHS created T-shirts to raise money for the Hesa family that say, “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind” on the front and “#TEAMSHAD Philippians 4:13” on the back. They are $15 each and benefit the Hesa family. For more information, call KHS at 817-774-5200.

To make a donation to the family’s GoFundMe account, visit