New technology helps bring sick kids to familiar places

5:45 PM, Jul 1, 2013   |    comments
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SACO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- For the past 15 years, Grahamtastic Connection has provided hundreds of seriously ill children and their families computers and internet connectivity to help kids keep connected with their friends and family while they are receiving treatment. 

"You can't drive the program, the technology drives the program," stated Grahamtastic's founder, Leslie Morrisette, who vowed to help families find information and stay in touch after her son's courageous battle with cancer.

Jenna Posey received the first computer Morrisette gave away.

"It was a huge, big Mac Quadra that I could barely carry with my own hands and it was dial-up internet, the beep, beep, beep, and it was slow," recalled Morrisette.  "Once I gave away that first computer I realized that my life would never be the same and it just felt so good to give back."

Jenna was five and a half when Morrisette paid her a visit, and left behind a world of opportunity.  She remembers sitting on Morrisette's lap, learning how to work the mouse and play games on the computer.

What she remembers even more vividly were the countless tests and treatments she had to endure as she fought for her life.

"I would have blood done weekly, and the spinal taps were the worse, I hated those, and shots in my legs," she said.  "I don't think I had any fear in the world, I was just sick and I had to get better."

Jenna's mom, Suzanne, says it was a difficult time for her family.

"It was the worst day of our lives," she explained.  "I can't even express to anybody the feelings you have as a parent when you hear the words, your child has cancer."

Jenna's prognosis was fairly good, and after about two years or treatment, her cancer went in to remission.  While there were much more limited options for chatting and connecting with friends and classmates, Suzanne says the computer provided a good distraction for her three kids.

"It helped us to forget, even for a few moments, that our daughter had cancer," said Suzanne.

Now, Grahamtastic Connection is about to donate its 800th computer, and have times ever changed.  Long gone are the desk top computers.  These days kids get laptops and tablets that help them keep caught up on their homework and social lives right from their hospital bed.

"It means the world to me to be able to provide this technology, and honestly, I feel honored and privileged to help these sick kids in any way possible," said Morrisette. 

With the touch of a couple keys, and a huge smile on her face, she shows off the next tool in her mission to improve the lives of sick kids.

"If you can play a video game, you can drive a Vgo," she stated.

Vgo is a robot, equipped with a computer screen, web camera and speakers, that also happens to be mobile.  The robot works remotely, and after a bit of practice can be maneuvered through halls and rooms, helping a seriously ill child maintain a physical presence in the classroom.

"This is unbelievable," exclaimed Ira Rosenberg, owner of the Prime Motor Group, who made the donation to help Grahamtastic acquire their Vgo.  "I just hope this doesn't replace car dealers."

Rosenberg sees the robot not only as a way for kids to really feel connected, but also an opportunity for cash strapped school systems to save money on tutoring.

"A sick kid in a hospital can see everything that is going on in a class with this unit," he added.   

Grahamtastic Connection will be loaning the Vgo out for a few months at a time beginning this fall, and is encouraging teachers and healthcare providers to send in letters of recommendation for kids they think could use the technology. 

And if that were not enough, Suzanne and Jenna Posey were inspired by the kindness of Leslie and Grahamtastic and created a charity of their own.  For the past decade, they have been making gift baskets with some of the creature comforts of home: shampoo, conditioner, tooth paste and brushes, toys, books and more to give to children and their families through the Maine Children's Cancer Program.

Suzanne says their organization C.A.R.E. Baskets started by providing items for kids around the holidays, but has expanded in recent years in an effort to provide the more than 50 kids diagnosed with cancer in Maine each year one of their baskets.



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