Local News

Robotic arm gives Caswell County teen a second chance at independence

Posted May 27, 2015 6:29 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2015 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Six years ago, 15-year-old Kelby Oakley was playing basketball with his friends. Today, he can't open a door or pick up a glass of water.

But a robotic arm is helping the Caswell County teen get a second chance at independence.

Oakley was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. He has not walked since the age of 10 and lost the function in his arms three years ago.

Kelby's mother, Tammy Oakley, said the progression of her son’s condition has been hard for her to watch.

"He was totally reliant on everyone else for everything," she said. "You know, you just want your kids to be kids."

Oakley is one of two people in North Carolina - and 12 in the country - to receive a wheelchair-mounted robotic arm from Kinova Robotics in Canada.

Dora Gosselin, Oakley's physical therapist at Duke Children’s Hospital, said she saw the 3-foot arm at a conference and realized it might work. She wrote to possible donors in Texas who agreed to help pay for the arm.

"I ran through the house, out the front door, scared the heck out of my husband and said, 'We got the arm!'" she said.

With the arm, Oakley can feed himself, scratch an itch, pick up something off the floor and remove his hat. He uses his fingers to control the robotic arm by pressing on a keypad.

"Going from everyone having to do everything for you, to doing more and more by yourself, it is a good feeling," he said.

Abe Clark, a product specialist with Kinova Robotics, is training the teen on how to use the arm properly. Clark said he loves his job because within 15 minutes he can see a difference in the patients.

"They're doing functional things. You see a smile on their face, their eyes light up, their whole mood changes because you're restoring something they haven't had," Clark said.

Tammy Oakley said she is very grateful for what the donors have done.

"Because of people like that, the world is a good place," she said.

Gosselin believes the world would be an even better place if insurance companies would consider giving others the same opportunity.

"I hope other people will have access to the exact same technology because everyone deserves to have all the function that they can," she said.