Meet the Lokomat

Can robotic legs teach Dillon to walk?

When Rhonda and Jeff Rosenlieb’s quadruplets play hide-and-seek, Rhonda instinctively wonders how to get her smallest son in the game.

Since the now 6-year-old quads were babies, Dillon was always the last to reach milestones and to achieve what came easier for his sister and brothers. He and his identical twin, Darian, have cerebral palsy. While Darian learned to walk much like his siblings who are typically developing, Dillon’s motor function remains far more impaired. Dillon uses a wheelchair and is unable to participate in the running and chasing that goes on in the house.

There is little the Rosenliebs would like more than for Dillon to catch up. They have tried every therapy they can find to improve the way he moves. Their best hope yet is a pair of robotic legs at Cincinnati Children’s on a machine called a Lokomat, which suspends Dillon over a treadmill and guides his movements with computer-controlled braces. It is the closest thing to walking Dillon has ever felt. His parents and doctors hope it can train his muscles and his mind to do the real thing on his own.

“Our goal is to get him to be able to walk,” his mom says. “If we can’t get him there, then we have to just make him as strong as possible. Our goal is to get him to be able to be independent.”

Researchers don’t yet know whether a robotic gait-training device can change the part of Dillon’s brain that controls his motor function. But they are exploring the possibilities of high-tech equipment and electrical stimulation targeted toward improving gait.

Rhonda and Jeff Rosenlieb know something about exploring possibilities. Seven years ago, they went through in vitro fertilization with the dream of getting pregnant. Four kids later, they have new dreams for their children.

“You always have to have hope,” Rhonda says. “And we have hope. High hopes.”