Robot helps boy plug in after cancer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last fall, we introduced you to a young boy fighting his second battle with leukemia. When we first met Matt Pettinato, 7, back in September, his life looked like a scene from “The Jetsons.”

The 7-year-old was in two places at once — a temporary apartment in Houston and Holy Family Catholic School in Austin.

Matt underwent a bone marrow transplant and was receiving cancer treatment for leukemia in Houston. His mom found an alternative to missing most of his second-grade year.

From his laptop in Houston, Matt could control a robot that was in his classroom. He could steer, see and even talk to his classmates. His dad would pick up school work from Matt’s teacher each week and drive it to Houston when he would visit.

After spring break, Matt didn’t need help anymore. He returned to the classroom with good news.

“I got cancer two times, but now it’s gone,” said Matt.

No more needles, no more medicine and a full head of thick, brown hair.

“Now I don’t have to do breathing treatments which were terrifying,” said Matt.

The second-grader was more than ready to plug back in.

“He already knew everybody. He knew what the routine was, and he had been doing it every day,” said Lisa, Matt’s mom.

Matt was no longer looking at his classmates through a camera.

“It was sort of hard to see. You couldn’t see things far away, so now they look a lot bigger,” said Matt.

The technology was free for Matt’s family through a program for homebound students called Morgan’s Angels. Kip Robins with the Region 6 Education Service Center in Huntsville runs the program.

So far, 21 robots have helped 25 students in 17 school districts.

They cost between $5,000 to $6,000 to operate. Most of it is paid for with private donations.

Matt’s teacher, Peggy Castro, said the robot was a saving grace.

“There’s no way he could’ve caught up on all the work that we did. There’s just no way he could’ve done it all in two months; he would be repeating second grade otherwise,” said Castro.

Matt recently shared his story with the Texas State Board of Education to talk them into expanding the program in schools across the state.

“Being a Catholic school, one of the seminarians that works with the school said that this is how God would intend to use technology,” said Lisa.

Matt’s robot will be passed on.

“Hopefully, it’s going to help another kid,” said Matt.

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