Little Heroes Foundation would like to thank the team behind ‘Healthy Focus’ at the Women’s and Children’s Health Network for their feature article on our new Robotic Centre!

This front page story in the summer issue on our Centre for Robotics and Innovation provides an amazing insight into the centre and how will help children get the most out of their rehabilitation.

Robotic Rehab

Article courtesy of Women’s and Children’s Health Network

Robotic technology will be used to aid the rehabilitation of children with serious neurological disorders and injuries thanks to a $1.5 million purpose-built gym at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH).

The Little Heroes Foundation Centre for Robotics and Innovation, which is the first facility of its kind in Australia, was launched in August, with equipment that provides tailored therapies to aid in walking, arm movement and coordination.

The centre is part of the WCH Paediatric Rehabilitation Department and has been made possible through the generous support of Little Heroes Foundation, a charity that has been supporting the WCH for the past 20 years.

Little Heroes Foundation Chairman Chris McDermott was joined by young patients Andre and Cameron to officially cut the ribbon to the new centre and the Hon. Leesa Vlahos MP, Minister for Disabilities and Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse was among the special guests at the opening.

The project emanated out of a conversation about two years ago between Associate Professor Ray Russo, Head of Research with the Rehabilitation Department, and Little Heroes Foundation Chairman Chris McDermott, in which Assoc. Prof. Russo was encouraged to “think big” about what assistance his department needed to enhance the care it offered to young patients.

“I thought I might as well pitch them the concept of assessing robotics and innovation as a focus for helping children with rehabilitation needs, and they just loved the idea,” Assoc. Prof. Russo said.

According to Assoc. Prof. Russo, who will oversee the gym’s operations, the more therapy a child with neurological dysfunction can access, the greater the benefits are likely to be.

“To improve neurological disability, you need a high quantum of therapy,” he said.

“Robotic technology is a way of giving children a larger quantum of therapy without necessarily involving a lot more cost in terms of therapist time.”

Assoc. Prof. Russo said that to provide this type of therapy for children with a high level of need for walking would normally require two to three therapists during a rehabilitation session to support the child in taking steps.

“Now you can do this with one trained assistant, after the child has been positioned within the robotic device by the robotics physiotherapist,” he said.

Each therapy session on the robotic machines is an interactive experience, using avatars on a screen controlled by the child.

“This allows the child to be fully immersed in the therapy, which is critical in assisting neuroplasticity and brain reorganisation to allow for improvement in function,” Assoc. Prof. Russo said.

Young people who are current inpatients or day patients of the Paediatric Rehabilitation program will be able to access the technology.

Initially, two robotic machines have been installed in the gym – a Lokomat designed to improve walking pattern and function – and an Armeo, which assists with developing muscle strength, power and range of movement in the arm. In addition, Dynavision, a tool for assisting with visual awareness and eye-hand coordination, is also used in the gym.

Little Heroes Foundation Chairman Chris McDermott said the Centre for Robotics and Innovation had been a passion of the charity for some time.

“There is a whole new field out there in rehabilitative medicine, and the more we

researched, the more excited we became about the possibility of bringing this robotic equipment to South Australia to give seriously ill children the best chance to resume a normal life,” Mr McDermott said.

“Recent advances have been significant, and we wanted to ensure the doctors and the rehabilitation team had access to this cutting edge technology.

“After beginning our relationship with the WCH in 1996, it gives us a great feeling to still be here two decades later creating a ‘world class’ facility.”

Seven-year-old John Bishop is one child who knows first-hand the benefits of using robotic technology as part of his rehabilitation therapy..

His biggest challenge in life has been to walk – something his parents were told may not happen after his cerebral palsy was diagnosed in 2009, when he was just one year old.

Today, he has gone from needing a wheelchair, and then a walker, for mobility to walking completely unaided.

To correct his uneven gait, doctors recommended regular use of the Lokomat, which he has accessed at another local facility.

“The changes we’ve seen in him in the last two years have been phenomenal,” John’s mother Kate said.

“We’ve thrown away the chair and the walker.

“When you put a child in the Lokomat, everything is tailored to that particular child – it teaches the correct gait patterns for walking and corrects if a child might favour one leg or the other.”

Women’s and Children’s Health Network Chief Executive Officer Naomi Dwyer said the addition of the gym to the services provided for paediatric rehabilitation patients was a wonderful merger of health care and technology.

“This is an exciting development in the treatment we can provide to children with neurological disorders or injuries,” she said.

“The Centre for Robotics and Innovation is a wonderful outcome from our partnership with Little Heroes Foundation, and I know that many of our young patients will benefit from it.”