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New robot helping children gain the confidence to take first steps

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Posted at 2:37 PM, Sep 20, 2022

PHOENIX — The miracle of modern technology is changing lives inside United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona.

Physical therapist Atalie Holem is prepping 7-year-old Alexandra Anderson to work with their newest robot.

“It allows us to practice balance and walking with the support of a dynamic trolly,” said Holem.

It’s called the ZeroG Gait and Balance Training System, and for Alexandra, it’s giving her the best chance of eventually walking on her own.

“Before she was even diagnosed, we knew there were some delays. She wasn’t meeting those baby milestones checklists that they hand you,” said Alexandra’s mom, Nicole.

Nicole says at 15 months old, her daughter was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome. A single missing gene from her eighteenth chromosome would change Alexandra’s life forever.

“Without that gene, it kind of wreaks havoc on her body. She has extreme difficulty with a lot of neurodevelopment issues,” said Nicole.

She’s nonverbal and faces a vast number of physical limitations. While she’s never taken an independent first step, they hope the robot will get her there. Once hooked into the harness, Alexandra can put her walking muscles to work. The ZeroG, running on an overhead track, is programmed to move with her, providing specified weight support while tracking countless data points.

“It will tell me the average body weight support that it provided, it will tell me how many falls it prevented, it will tell me the distance that the child walked. These are all things that I can then use to document progress,” said Holem.

We saw the progress ourselves after the harness was removed. Following a half-hour session on the ZeroG, Alexandra’s brain and body were now firing on memory.

“Getting to see her make those steps in the gait trainer, the ZeroG, and then when it’s off of her being able to take those assisted steps just holding Atalie’s hand, I mean, that is just pure magic,” said Nicole.

The real magic is in the hope this technology can infuse into so many families like this one. It’s the only one of its kind in the southwest.

The $300,000 investment was made possible thanks to donations from the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, the Arizona Board of Visitors, and Thunderbird Charities.

A recent study shows children who received robotic gait training in unison with conventional physical therapy had a higher chance of gaining independent mobility than those who received only conventional therapy.

Cameron Polom at KNXV first reported this story.