Disease & Illness

This 6-Year-Old Boy With Leukemia Attends School With Help From A Specially Designed Robot

What an awesome idea.

Sometimes, as grownups, we forget that school days can be long and difficult, even for the most enthusiastic students. And if you’re undergoing cancer treatments, like Ohio kindergartener Levi Suttles is, it’s completely exhausting.

Suttles has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After being diagnosed in March 2018, he had a hard time maintaining his energy at school. But then a robot arrived to help Levi as he attended school.

Jayelin Call, Levi’s teacher in South Charleston, Ohio, learned about a student in another state who was using a robot to help him at school. Coincidentally, Ohio State University’s engineering department contacted the elementary school around the same time, asking if they needed help with anything.

“Right away, we had someone come out and walk us through how a double robotics system in the classroom would work,” Call told the Springfield News-Sun. “We came up with classroom rules for the robot and how to interact with it. So we were ready when it came.”

The setup is similar to VGo, the “robotic telepresence” shown below. Levi controls the robot from home using an iPad, which his mom, Kristi Suttles, said he was totally ready for. 

Deanne Fitzmaurice/VGo

“He’s an expert when it comes to the iPad and stuff, so he picked it up right away,” she told the News-Sun. 

Levi can interact with his classmates on his iPad, and they can see and hear him on the robot’s screen as it streams video. They’ve even outfitted the robot with a pair of electric-blue glasses, Levi’s signature look.

Ohio State donated the robot to Levi’s school. It’s a good thing, too, because his mom says he’ll need treatments for an additional two years and change. The robot could be his stand-in all the way to third grade.

But while they’ve got the robot covered, the Suttles family could still use some help. A friend of the family set up a GoFundMe for a little financial support. They’re really close to their goal, if you’ve got some bucks to spare!

In the meantime, it’s fascinating to see how robotics can be used in the classroom in ways you might not expect. Are there robotics program in effect at your kids’ schools?