Boy with cerebral palsy walks for first time with robotic walker

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A 14-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy took his first steps this week with the assistance of a new robotic walker. Gabriel Machado, who is non-verbal, giggled with excitement as he walked around a courtyard on the campus of Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown Thursday.

His mother, Perla Franco, watched proudly, recording video of the moment she never doubted would come, one way or another. Franco, a former sergeant in the Brazilian Army who left her homeland seven years ago in search of the best care for her son, had researched devices to help Gabriel walk independently, finally discovering online Trexo Robotics, a Canadian start-up.

“It’s very emotional for me because people [did not] believe he [could] walk one day,” Franco told Boston 25 News Thursday. “I’m sure the Perkins team believed Gabriel can do it…I see him now. I have tears in my eyes, because – oh, my gosh – this is wonderful.”

Trexo is a robotic walker made specifically for children with disabilities to walk independently. The robotic legs attach to Gabriel’s walker and are strapped to his own legs. Battery power assists his knees and joints to propel himself forward.

Physical therapist Taylor Chasey Brisbin helps Gabriel maneuver the Trexo on a tablet as she walks beside him.

“Our goal is really increasing our students’ independent access of the school environment,” Chasey Brisbin said. “So, this device has been great in getting Gabriel up and mobile. He’s really kind of been the popular man in the hallways in this new device this week.”

The new technology was inspired by Trexo Robotics co-founder and CEO Manmeet Maggu’s nephew, Praneit, who also has cerebral palsy.

“The thought of my nephew never taking his first steps, never running with other kids on the playground inspired me to find a solution,” Maggu told Boston 25 News by Zoom Thursday. “So, we started looking around. And when we couldn’t find anything, we said, ‘why not build something ourselves?’”

Maggu, who met Gabriel at his first training, said watching a child use Trexo for the first time is the best part of his job.

“Watching a child take their first steps is one of the most magical moments for any family,” Maggu said. “It is one of the first milestones people get to see as parents. And it’s something truly special. For me, being part of Trexo, I get to be part of that special moment every single time.”

Gabriel’s 12-year-old sister, Maria, assembled his Trexo at home. She dreams of playing soccer, the siblings’ favorite sport, together one day.

Trexo has opened a new world of independence and opportunity for Gabriel. Later this month, Gabriel will be the ring bearer at his mother and her fiancé Michael Pafume’s wedding. Gabriel will walk down the aisle independently, giving a whole new meaning to the words, “I do.”

“Very special for me and for my fiancé,” Franco said of the moment she is eagerly anticipating. “I was [a] single mom with two kids. I never expected one day I would get married. When Mike arrived, there was a connection with Gabriel and Mike...Gabriel loves him, and he loves Gabriel.”

With the help of generous donors in her town of Lexington, Franco has leased the Trexo for six months, but she hopes to buy the expensive but invaluable device for her son to use whenever he wants. Franco is raising money through a GoFundMe account to cover the cost of the device as well as a service dog for Gabriel after his beloved dog died last month.

Maggu said most families pay for Trexo out of pocket or through grants. But he hopes to show insurance companies that walking each day with Trexo improves health enough to save those companies money.