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'Never take a step for granted': Ripon High School senior prepares to walk the graduation stage

Ella Weiske learning how to walk with the Trexo
Posted at 7:53 PM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 10:48:18-05

RIPON (NBC 26) — This time of year, many high school seniors are eagerly awaiting graduation day. But Ripon High School senior Ella Weiske is making every step across that graduation stage count.

“I wasn’t able to [walk] before,” Ella said.

Ella has cerebral palsy and congenital quadriplegia, making walking nearly impossible.

“Ella was really confined to either her electric wheelchair or her bed, and she really wasn't able to participate with their peers as much,” Ella’s physical therapist Dr. Courtney Disterhaft, D.P.T., said.

But with the help of a Trexo robotic system, Ella walked for the first time this week.

“The Trexo is an exoskeleton, which means it goes over her muscles and works when her muscles are not working,” Disterhaft said. “So Ella can actually fire her muscles, and then the robot takes over and kind of finishes that through the rest of the motion.”

Disterhaft said the Trexo will also increase Ella’s overall quality of life by increasing bone density, helping her swallow, allowing her to breathe easier, and improving the quality of her sleep.

Working with Ella for three years at the Fox Valley Physical Therapy and Wellness Clinic, Disterhaft said Ella embodies their motto: "never take a step for granted."

“Ella is very popular here,” Disterhaft said. “There's usually three or four people working on her. Everyone really jumps in and so the amount of therapy she's getting in and the quality of therapy are really key.”

Ella's mom Debra Weiske says she can finally do so many of the things that seemed impossible when she was wheelchair-bound.

“I can walk the dog! We can walk the dog! I mean, like these are great things. We have a great downtown that we could walk in. And those are things that we've always decided like okay, you sit your chair and we will drive you there, but she can finally make the decision like, hey, I want to walk the dog.”

Debra said for Ella, this technology is life-changing. She said she heard of another child in the area learning to walk using Trexo, she knew she had to obtain one for her daughter.

“She has always had a spirited attitude and ‘I can’ attitude,’” Debra said. “So I never hesitated. Once I saw this, I knew she could do it.”

The device carries a hefty price tag of $40,000, and Disterhaft said it will be even more for frame adjustments and robotic sensors. The family begana fundraising campaign through the website “Help Hope Live”to raise the money. Currently, the family is leasing the device, but they are still looking to raise $10,000 to own it.

Debra said during only her second time using the system, she took 500 steps.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Ella said.

Debra said Ella’s family, friends and physical therapy team are all rooting for her, every step of the way.

“She has to fight for everything that comes her way,” Debra said. “Every step she takes every signature she makes. Every head she holds upright. Just a little warrior.”

When Ella graduates this May, she’ll be able to walk across the stage and receive her diploma herself.

“If anyone can get anything from Ella’s story it's those with any disabilities and hardships… that they can realize that if they set their mind to anything they can achieve anything," Disterhaft said.