Monday, October 11th, 2021
Robot helps Celina teen learn
Student underwent liver transplant 8 months ago
By Leslie Gartrell
Colten Mustard, who is recovering from a liver transplant, participates in class. . .
CELINA - Eight months after his liver transplant and about three school years since he last stepped foot in a classroom, seventh grader Colten Mustard has rejoined his classmates at Celina Middle School - through the video screen of a robot.
Colten returned to school on Sept. 28 to a sanitized room, where he is learning separately from the rest of his peers to protect his compromised immune system. The teen, who turns 13 today, now uses a robot named Sheldon to be his eyes, ears and voice in the classroom.
Colten had been learning from home even before the COVID-19 pandemic began due to his biliary atresia, a rare, life-threatening disease that affects one in every 10,000-15,000 children.
The condition causes scarring and blockage in the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the first part of the small intestine for digestion, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
In infants with biliary atresia, bile can't flow into the intestine, causing bile to build up in the liver and damage it. The damage leads to scarring, loss of liver tissue and function and cirrhosis.
Mom Amber Mustard hassaid her son had undergone multiple surgeries as an infant. One of those involved the Kasai procedure, which involved removing damaged bile ducts and using a loop of the infant's own small intestine to replace the damaged ones, according to the NIDDK. The procedure often postpones the need for a liver transplant.
Despite the surgeries' success, Colten still suffered gradual liver damage. In May 2020, the family took their oldest child to the hospital where he was diagnosed with hepatopulmonary syndrome, a rare lung complication from liver disease, after a weeklong stay due to a liver infection.
In September 2020, the family met with his medical team for a two-day transplant evaluation. His doctors decided he needed to be listed on the active liver transplant list.
In early February of this year, the Mustards finally received the call they had been waiting for: Colten would be getting a new liver. The transplant was a success, and Colten stayed in the Ronald McDonald House before returning home.
The Mustards have stayed as busy as ever with weekly doctor appointments, medication management, life in general and planned - and unplanned - trips to the hospital.
The road to recovery hasn't been easy. Colten has been through four rounds of steroids to keep his body from rejecting the new organ. The steroids had unexpected side effects, his parents said.
An extended steroid regime can cause mood swings, increased body mass index, hair loss and moon face, a build up of extra fat on the sides of the face. However, Colten has been steroid-free for about a month, and Amber Mustard said his symptoms have improved noticeably.
Celina Middle School principal Andy Mikesell said the school was able to purchase "Sheldon" the Ohmni robot with funds the school received from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
When Colten no longer needs the robot, Mikesell said it can be used by other students who may not be able to participate in in-person learning.
"We've had kids over the years with medical issues before COVID, so this is a nice addition," Mikesell said of the new technology.
Previously, Colten's school day primarily consisted of reading and homework. The only interactions the Mustards had with staff was through email, and Colten said he missed being in school.
The robot was purchased in September, Mikesell said, and Colten was able to use it while he was still at home. The robot stays at the school where Colten can remotely drive it around to his different classes. However, due to Sheldon's sluggish speed of 2.2 mph, classmates often carry the robot from class to class.
The robot has two-way video and audio, so Colten can see and hear his teachers and classmates and vice versa. Dad Pete Mustard joked his son now can get called out in class for not paying attention like any other kid.
Although Colten's road to recovery has had twists and turns, Pete Mustard said he, his wife and the family's team of doctors have been surprised by their son's quick recovery and hope it continues at the same pace.
"Colten has throughout pretty much all of this, he's baffled everybody," Pete Mustard said. "He's healed faster than they expected. And so we're at the point where we overreact to everything because everything is going so well."
To stay up to date on Colten's journey, follow the CaringforColten Facebook page.