Kelby Oakley has been confined to a wheelchair for five years, but this week he took a giant leap toward independence.
The 15 year-old high school sophomore, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a toddler, was outfitted with a robotic arm on his wheelchair, enabling him to eat, drink, turn on lights and manipulate the TV remote – all things most people take for granted.
“It’s great,” he grinned, working to direct the three-fingered hand to grasp a Diet Pepsi.
The Kinova arm was a gift from two donors, who selected Kelby after he was nominated by Dora Gosselin, his physical therapist at Duke. Kelby is the first youngster in North Carolina, and only one of 12 people in the country, to receive the device.
His mother, Tammy Oakley, said the generosity of the donors “has restored my faith in the goodness of people.”
During this week’s fitting, Kelby quickly learned to manipulate the small control panel with his fingers, picking up a blanket from the floor, taking off his ball cap, and giving a high five. He also navigated a fork with a Krispy Kreme doughnut payload.
Each achievement drew applause. And tears of joy.
“This is going to do so much for him,” his mother said. “It may seem like small things to us, but they are huge for him to have more independence.”