Karter’s super power: A pair of ‘robot legs’ help a Hugo boy walk

·9 min read

Karter Goodchild took a walk around the block last week.

The 6-year-old boy with brown curly hair was greeted by a neighbor, stopped to look at a tree and checked out a nearby park.

Karter, who suffered a massive brain injury at birth, has a severe form of spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. He doesn’t talk, eat or walk on his own.

But Karter has a super power: a pair of “robot legs” that allow him to take a walk around his Hugo neighborhood every day.

The wearable robotic device, created by a Canadian company called Trexo Robotics, allows Karter to feel what it’s like to walk on his own.

“A lot of parents take for granted that you can just go outside and take a walk with your kid,” said Tiffany Goodchild, Karter’s mother. “We don’t take that for granted. I feel really lucky that I get to have this experience with Karter. It’s truly my favorite time of the day — just him and me walking around the neighborhood.”

It takes Karter a few minutes to get into the rhythm of the walk after he is placed in the robotic exoskeleton, but once he gets moving, he lifts his head and smiles. His teachers report that when he goes for a “walk” before school, he has “way more energy and is way more engaged,” Goodchild said. “If you’re a person who gets up and works out in the morning, you usually have a lot more energy throughout the day. It’s the same thing for him. It’s getting his body up and moving.”

Goodchild and her husband, Kole, are former college athletes. They know about the importance of physical activity.

Karter receives a host of health benefits from his daily constitutional, including better sleep, improved gastro-intestinal health, better head control, increased strength and endurance, and increased socialization, she said.

“Our philosophy of care is really therapy-driven because that is what’s good for your body,” Tiffany Goodchild said. “Bodies are made to move, and you’re a healthier person if you’re moving your body.”

The social benefits of a walk around the Victor Gardens neighborhood rank right up there with the physical benefits, the Goodchilds say.

“There’s the whole idea of inclusion and acceptance and awareness that comes along with having a child walking around the neighborhood in this kind of equipment,” she said.

On a recent walk around the neighborhood, a neighbor’s mother called out a greeting to Karter as she got into her car. “Hi, Karter! How are you doing today?” said Patty Tollackson.

“Hi, Grandma!” Tiffany Goodchild responded, as Karter kept walking down the block.


Tiffany Goodchild used a tablet to program the speed and length of Karter’s walk. The tablet, in turn, recorded the number of steps Karter has taken: 388,000 since he got his “robot legs” in January 2020.

“I can control everything here,” said Goodchild, pointing to the tablet. “I’m going to press play and adjust the speed. There’s an emergency button I can press if we need to stop it immediately.”

On a recent 22-minute stroll around Arbre Park, Karter took 1,577 steps at a rate of 70 steps a minute. Even more key, according to Goodchild, were Karter’s “initiation” numbers — “how much work he’s doing versus what the robot is doing.”

“That’s how parents can understand and see if their child is making progress over time,” she said. “The idea is that they get that motor pattern down, right? The more repetition, the better.”

When Karter first started walking, his initiation numbers ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent. Now, he routinely hits 20 percent, she said.

The basement of the family’s house on Arbre Lane has been turned into a therapy center/bedroom for Karter — complete with an accessible bathroom, a swing, a vibration plate, a Hoyer lift system, an “eye-gaze” communication system, a hi-low chair and a P-Pod postural-support chair.

“We have lots of different seating systems because what kid wants to just sit in the same chair all day,” said Tiffany Goodchild, who gave up a career in special education to be Karter’s primary caretaker.

Nurses help care for Karter throughout the day. Only nurses who want to help Karter enjoy “a full day of engagement” are hired, she said.

“If you’re a nurse who wants to just push meds and put an iPad on and have him sit in his chair all day, you’re gonna be miserable in our house,” Tiffany Goodchild said. “The nurses on our team are not pushing him or watching him in a wheelchair. They’re helping him with all of his equipment. They’re helping us with exercises. They’re stretching his body. They’re helping him move and groove throughout the day. … That’s not for everybody, but we don’t budge on how we approach caring for him.”

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Karter walks once or twice a day with his “robot legs.” In the winter, he uses them on a special Trexo Robotics treadmill. Karter also uses a special standing frame during the day that helps improve his bone density and hip strength, Tiffany Goodchild said.

One of Karter’s favorite activities is spinning on swings, which are hooked to the ceiling of the basement. Don’t think he’ll settle for gentle, easy pushes.

“When we first get a new nurse, I’m like, ‘Yeah, you can push Karter in the swing,’ and they’ll kind of just gently push him, and I’m, like, ‘No, let me show you,’ and I’m whipping him around, and he’s spinning super-fast, but I mean, the faster you can swing him, the better,” she said. “That’s what he likes. He’s an input kid.”

The swinging is a good form of vestibular input for Karter, Goodchild said, “but, honestly, it’s just a great leisure activity for him.”


Karter was the first child in Minnesota to get the Trexo Robotics robot-assisted gait-training system, which costs about $12,000 a year to lease.

The Goodchilds, who have three other children, learned about it at an intensive-therapy program at the NAPA Center near Los Angeles, Calif., that they attended with Karter when he was 2½.

“It was just so powerful to see him taking steps like that,” his mother said. “Most kids have been walking for well over a year by that point, and just to see him upright, moving, stepping and making progress was so amazing.”

The Goodchilds say they have been fortunate to secure resources for Karter through insurance and medical assistance. “Not every family is as lucky as ours,” she said.

Tiffany and Kole Goodchild created a nonprofit organization — the Kourageous Karter Foundation — as a way to help other families raising children with severe neurological conditions. Through the foundation, Tiffany Goodchild works to help other parents of children with disabilities obtain the same resources that Karter receives.

“This is not a privilege,” she said. “This is a right that kids like Karter, who have this level of disability, have access to because this is what they need to have quality of life. Every child deserves to have this kind of a life.”

“Karter wants to move,” she said. “He wants to stand. He wants to play. He wants to swing. But that looks different for Karter. It requires a lot of different adaptive equipment and tools and resources to give him the life that my other kids just naturally have.”

The Kourageous Karter Foundation this month is teaming with Trexo Robotics to raise money for another child in Minnesota to receive “robot legs” like Karter’s. The group’s fundraiser, “Race for Robot Legs,” will be Sept. 24 in St. Paul.

“I just feel really strongly that all kids deserve an opportunity to walk,” Tiffany Goodchild said. “It’s not fair that Karter gets to walk because his mom has figured out how to access the right resources. Every family deserves this.”

When Karter was born, he suffered a massive brain injury that deprived his body of blood and oxygen. It affected all his organs, and the prognoses were terrifying, according to Tiffany Goodchild.

“We were told, ‘Your child will never walk, he’ll never talk, he’ll never eat,’ ” she said. “They told us very clearly that Karter would not know joy. The only choice we were given was to remove him from life support.”

After his breathing tube was removed, Karter was not expected to survive for more than a few minutes. Two days later, he was sent home on hospice. He was not expected to live past age 1. On June 26, Karter celebrated his 6th birthday.

Although Karter is severely affected by his brain injury, “he is full of life and joy, and he gives the gift of perspective to all he encounters,” Tiffany Goodchild said.

She hopes sharing Karter’s story will help other families of children who have medically complex conditions.

“They may have to pivot and adapt, but their lives can still be filled with joy and gratitude and contentment,” she said. “It’s just getting to that point of acceptance and celebrating who he is, rather than grieving who he isn’t.

“Everybody has worth, every child has value, and it doesn’t have to be this devastating thing,” she said. “Your life can be beautiful and full of joy, and your child can have very similar experiences. It just looks different. Different is not less.”


“Race for Robot Legs,” a fundraiser for the Kourageous Karter Foundation, will be Sept. 24 at Harriet Island in St. Paul. The event includes a 5K fun run, a kid’s 1-mile walk, a silent auction and kids activities.

Check in starts at 8 a.m. Participants also may participate virtually at any time.

Money raised at the event will be used to purchase a set of Trexo Robotics gait trainers for a family in need.

For more information, go to kourageouskarter.org/fundraising.

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