Game robot helping Grace to get better

Grace McShane from Blyth using the robot with members of staff at the Great North Children's Hospital in Newcastle.
Grace McShane from Blyth using the robot with members of staff at the Great North Children's Hospital in Newcastle.

A brave youngster from the county who suffered a large bleed on the brain is benefiting from a special robot designed to encourage the movement of children’s arms using video games.

Seven-year-old Grace McShane returned from a holiday in Portugal with her family in August, complaining of a headache and feeling poorly.

When Grace’s mum was unable to wake her she was take to Cramlington where a CT scan showed a large bleed on the brain.

Grace was transferred to the paediatric neuro ward at the Great North Children’s Hospital as tThe bleed had caused left-sided facial palsy and left upper and lower limb weakness.

The Blyth youngster now walks independently and manages stairs with supervision, but full function has not yet returned to her left hand.

The new Diego rehabilitation robot at the hospital has been an integral part of Grace’s therapy, providing a real motivational factor in her recovery.

The state of the art ‘Tyromotion Diego’ robotic therapy device from Austria is a UK first for the GNCH and was made possible with funding of £47,500 from the Newcastle Healthcare Charity, which supports the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The robot works by providing partial support for children’s arms with overhead cables from a portable stand, whilst incorporating sophisticated sensors to track the child’s elbow and wrist positions.

This information is used to create virtual reality games on the computer screen where the child can move his or her ‘arms’ more effectively than they can in reality. With this partial assistance the child can begin to practise and re-learn movements helping them to recover more quickly.

Dr Rob Forsyth, consultant and senior Llcturer in Child Neurology, said: “We are getting better at treating severe acute illnesses like meningitis and some children who in the past would have died are now surviving, but unfortunately with an injury to their brain.

“We have been trialling the ‘Diego’ here at the GNCH since September 2015 and have been very encouraged by the results. Newcastle’s research into the causes, treatment and rehabilitation of brain injury in children (including cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injury) has an international reputation and this new robotic therapy system will help cement Newcastle’s reputation in this area.”

Children can play a variety of video games, appropriate to their age, interest and the degree to which they cause fatigue.

The ‘gaming’ nature of the device is something that is familiar and reassuring to the child and the competitive element, attempting to improve upon previous best scores, motivates and engages the child, stimulating more practice attempts. The result is that more prolonged periods of sustained practice can be achieved than in conventional gym-based therapy sessions.