SHIRLEY — Witnessing her five-year-old daughter walk for the first time with the aid of a robotic gait trainer was monumental for Kayla McGann, a milestone she will never forget.
“Watching Mia take her first steps was something I never thought we would experience,” the mother of two shared. “It was a feeling beyond words filled with joy, excitement, and pride.”
Mia has been a full-time student at Keystone Educational Collaborative since February after being chosen to do a five-week summer program there last year. The nonprofit educational organization’s primary mission is to provide high quality programs for students ages pre-K through high school with special education needs.
“I fell in love with the facility,” Kayla shared. “I choose Keystone over public school since Keystone is better equipped to meet the needs that [Mia] needs.”
The smiling little girl has several medical issues that Keystone is able to address, including a missing 4P16.2 chromosome, with only one other person in the world missing this chromosome. She also has hip dysplasia, club feet, failure to thrive, and microcephaly, and Kayla said they are working with “several specialists to discover” other diagnoses.
Learning how to walk with the help of a Trexo Robotic Gait Trainer has been a joy for both Mia and her mom.
“Being at Keystone has assisted her in more ways than I think of, especially this Trexo,” Kayla said. “They are supplying the tools and knowledge to progress in life.”
The school is raising funds to keep the Trexo around as the one-year lease they were gifted with by the Canada based company is coming to an end this month. Keystone Lead Physical Therapist Amanda Costello said the total purchase cost is $75,000 and there is also a lease to own option for about $20,000 per year for five years.
The robotic gait trainer is an exoskeletal walking aide that attaches to the user and moves their legs through the gait cycle.
“In a typical therapy session, myself and another therapist will position a student in a gait trainer and get on the ground and manually move their legs through the gait cycle,” Costello said. “This is physically very taxing and normally we are able to help the student take 50 steps. In a twenty-minute session with the Trexo, our students are taking upwards of 500 steps. There is simply no comparison.”
Kayla said being able to have Mia continue to utilize a Trexo “would mean the world” to her and her Winchendon based family, which includes her husband and their six month old son Gavin, Mia’s little brother.
“The fact Mia that has made such an improvement in this Trexo is outstanding,” the mom imparted. “Last summer she initiated it 7% and now she is doing 30% or higher. Anything to get this little girl walking, and to assist her, would mean the absolute world to me.”
Costello said they have three different programs for students within Keystone. The program the Trexo is used in is called the Key Program, “which provides services for students who are medically or physically impaired and children with autism spectrum disorder.”
“Given the size of the Trexo, it was only suitable for our preschool and early elementary classroom,” she conveyed. “We have been able to create profiles for several students who are part of the collaborative and students who are part of our member districts.”
A story appeared in the Sentinel & Enterprise last fall about Keystone and the Trexo. Mia is just one of many students at the school who have benefited from using the walking aid.
Fundraising for the purchase or lease of a Trexo to have at Keystone permanently has gained momentum after NBC Boston Channel 10 news broadcast a story on May 15 about Mia and fellow student Myles Leblanc utilizing the gait trainer and with subsequent social media shares about the effort. There is a donate option on the Keystone website that directs you to the school’s PayPal link, with all proceeds going towards the purchase or lease of a Trexo.
Costello shared that to date they have raised about $6,000 towards the effort — and that they are hoping to outright purchase one.
“Ideally, that would be incredible,” she said. “However, we are able to lease to own it as well.”
When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Costello, who is in her third year at Keystone, was quick to say, “the students and the people.”
“There is something amazing about the work culture at Keystone,” she said. “My co-workers are passionate and enthusiastic about the work that we do, and it is very easy to sense when you walk through the halls. And our students and their families — we serve a tremendous group of students.”
Costello went on to say that it is hard to put into words what it would mean to the students, families, and staff to be able to have a Trexo gait trainer at the school for now and future use.
“I get asked this often, and struggle to articulate how meaningful this would be,” she expressed. “The Trexo allows our students to develop mobility skills that without it, they may not be able to achieve. Being able to provide our students with access to a device like this is life altering.”