Teen With Cerebral Palsy Walks During High School Graduation With Help of Exoskeleton

“Making my friends cry happy tears, that’s what it’s all about," 19-year-old Darby Cochran said.

Graduation is a huge milestone for every teenager, but it was a special achievement for a graduate with cerebral palsy, who was able to walk across the stage to receive her diploma, thanks to new exoskeleton technology.

Darby Cochran, 19, of Pike County High School in Georgia rose to receive her diploma on May 25 as teachers and classmates chanted her name.

"I’m just glad I was able to walk and show my friends what I’ve never done before," Cochran said. "It makes me feel so good to see everybody’s reaction to me walking."

Cochran was born with cerebral palsy, and primarily gets around using a power wheelchair.

But for as long as she could remember, she has dreamed of walking across her high school graduation stage.

"Making my friends cry happy tears," Cochran said. "That’s what it’s all about."

To help her reach that goal, her physical therapist, Kelly Moore of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, suggested a robotic exoskeleton that has motors in the hips and knees and adjusts according to how much strength the patient can use.

"In this case, with Cochran, she initiates every step and she has to get the exoskeleton going, and then it’ll help her with the rest of her swing if she needs it," Moore said.

Moore explained they practiced walking with the exoskeleton during every physical therapy session, and despite being a difficult machine to navigate, Moore said she always knew Cochran would achieve her dream.

"She is probably one of the hardest-working patients that we’ve ever had and so determined and knew what she wanted and is now making it happen," Moore said. "We’re just so proud of her."

The huge achievement even brought tears to the eyes of Anna-Lisa Tarabicos, a pediatric nurse practitioner who works with Cochran.

“She rocks everything that she does because she has such an amazing smile and such a vibrant personality that you can’t help but be drawn to her,” Tarabicos said. “Her attitude is amazing and that’s what’s made her so successful because she has the vision, the drive [and] the support of her family.”