Lyndon Baty and the Robot That Saved Him

In tiny Knox City, a sick boy and his robot sidekick keep beating the odds.

Lyndon Baty and the Robot That Saved Him
Dylan Hollingsworth

If he has his act together, Lyndon has already powered on in the copy room by the time the bell for first period rings, and has already begun the long, slow trek down the school's single hallway, arriving at his first class, chemistry, before the tardy bell rings five minutes later. But he was a little slow getting going today, so by the time he arrives at Mr. Deville's room — it's the one farthest from the copy room, if that buys him any sympathy — the door is already shut, and the halls of Knox City High are mostly empty.

Since he doesn't have arms he can't turn the handle to open the door. He used to crank up the volume and yell, but that didn't really work either, so over time he learned to adapt, to use his unique gifts to solve the problem. He would back up, creating enough room to pick up speed, and then ram the door at full throttle. It wasn't too violent a collision, but it was enough to shake the door with the force of a hard knock, and after a few minutes someone always came to his aid.

"Hey, Lyndon."

Dylan Hollingsworth
Lyndon likes to position his robot at the front of the class so he has a good view.
Dylan Hollingsworth
Lyndon likes to position his robot at the front of the class so he has a good view.

Details

Email the author at luke.darby@dallasobserver.com.

Oh, good, there's another boy in the hall today.

Lyndon gets to spare the door and his paint job.

"Can you open Mr. Deville's door for me?"

He rolls to his usual spot at the front of the room, where he has a good view of the whiteboard and the teacher. But today's activity isn't quite built for Lyndon, so Mr. Deville positions himself in front of him and says: "Since so many students are at UIL" — it's an academic contest — "we're just writing addresses on envelopes for prom invitations. You don't have to stick around." So out Lyndon goes, back through the door and down the hall, back to the copy room to power down and wait for the next bell to ring.


Knox City is a town of 1,300 people about 200 miles northwest of Dallas, lying along two main streets with no traffic lights. The Baty home is not far north of the main intersection, less than two miles, a simple brick house with about 70 acres of land behind it and a small free-standing office under construction out front. A yellow crop duster swoops low over the house across the street and lands on the airstrip up the road, the main landmark that lets the Batys' visitors, often news vans and eager reporters, know they've gone too far.

It's mid-morning, and Lyndon is uploading an assignment. There isn't much time before class, but once he finishes he walks to the living room. It probably crosses his mind to squeeze in a quick game of NBA 2K13 on his Xbox, but he doesn't push it. He flips on the TV instead.

"Lyndon, it's almost time for chemistry," his mom, Sheri, says. "Turn the TV off."

"I just want to see who won the game."

"Which game?"

"I don't remember, but it affects the Knicks."

Sheri is in the kitchen washing eggs, which she'll sell around town. She's a photographer — portraits and sporting events, mostly — but when those chickens are really producing they're a good side gig. She's getting six dozen boxed for an old woman in town who likes to bake.

The rest of the family is long gone. Louis, Lyndon's dad, is the superintendent of the Knox City-O'Brien school district. His brothers are at school: 11-year-old Chance, who hugs strangers and offers them clementines, and Sheldon, 14, the worrier in the group.

The assignment Lyndon just finished is for West Texas University, which lets students at Knox City High take courses for college credit. He's 17, so college isn't far off, a notion obscured by his still child-like frame. He can talk nonstop for hours, and if the topic is sports he goes even faster, and assumes you're keeping up with the names and stats he's machine-gunning your way. He's most obsessed with basketball, and wants nothing more than to play in the NBA. But being a fanatic is as close as he can get. With his skinny limbs and stomach swollen with a dialysis catheter, contact sports are off the table.

Lyndon was born with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic condition that results in cysts on the kidneys. It's the most common life-threatening genetic disease in the world, but because Lyndon is Lyndon he was born with the rarer form of the disease, autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, the kind that appears in children. Louis and Sheri are both carriers for the mutated gene, which gave Lyndon a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease. About 70 percent of babies born with recessive PKD survive their first year. But back when Lyndon was born — six weeks early, with two pounds of fluid in his chest and cyst-covered kidneys that couldn't filter — his doctors gave him two years to live. Most newborns in his condition don't live two weeks.

Sheri likes to say that if there's a 97 percent chance of a thing, Lyndon is the 3 percent. He made it, despite his abnormally small stomach that could only hold so much food, despite the need for an oxygen tank and feeding tube at his crib and five different blood pressure medications, despite being on dialysis for at least 10 hours every day. That was just to see 2. As the years went on there were countless 200-mile trips from Knox City to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, for a blood clot on his fifth birthday and, finally, a new kidney when he was 7.

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11 comments
MisterMean
MisterMean

I seem to recall a similar concept in the Dallas Morning News comic page Baldo where one student (due to immunological illness) went to school via robot.

aparis1
aparis1

@MisterMean Yes, Baldo did do a number of comic strips featuring a Rayna the robot that looks strikingly like VGo :)

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

@MisterMean  That's odd.  I seem to recall a Bob Marley and the Wailers song all about "we gonna chase those crazy baldheads outta the town".  I always seemed to think that had something to do with the skinheads prevalent in Deep Ellum in the 1980s, and if I'm not wrong, nary a peep from the conservatrons at DMN.  The somewhat admirable individual (and Liberal) entrepreneurs, with some help from myself and my friends, are the ones responsible for getting the police involved in getting those early incarnations of the Tea Party out of one of the few organic and independently operated entertainment districts the city of Dallas ever had.  Crazy baldheads is exactly what I'd call those misbegotten extremists, and many Dallas cops would agree with us.  I have a bunch of stories to tell about being blond and blue-eyed and getting the Nazi salute from those idiot-heads. 

Baldo?  Right about robotic.  Mechanized.  Wehrmacht. The notion that Nazis were Liberals is simply another "fictional reality" from the mind of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the woman who wore black leather jackets but never went to South Central Los Angeles with it. 

MisterMean
MisterMean

@gordonhilgers Let me see if I can reiterate (re state) my original comment:

1) the article talks about the use of robotics (a robot) for Lyndon Baty to be able to attend his school.   Also about the history of why he can not attend school in person due to his health.

2) I mentioned the comic pages in the Dallas Morning News-they appear in the Arts & Life section.   There are 2 and 1/2 pages.   B.C., Blondie, Crankshaft, Curtis, Dilbert etc.  They appear every day.

3) on the 1/2 page of comics is a comic written by Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos.   The main character is a teenage male named Baldo.  He lives with his father, his Tia (aunt) and his little sister.   The NAME OF THE STRIP IS BALDO!   Baldo is Hispanic.  He has a friend who he hangs out with who, a few weeks ago, dated a girl who, much like Lyndon Baty, could not attend school due to health reasons.  She too was able to attend school by a robot.  There were several days worth of comic strips dealing with how the young lady and Baldo's friend "dated".  

4)  In my comment it was my intention to draw the parallels between this comic strip and real life of Lyndon Baty.

It must have gone over your head.  I do not know where you came up with your response.  It is really off the wall!

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers like.author.displayName 1 Like

First the Star Trek communicators.  Now the robots.  And they said us hippies were "just kiddin'".  Apparently, dreams can come true for some people, and my empathy and hope goes out to Lyndon.  As a survivor of a life-threatening illness, I know how it feels to stare death in the face.  Nobody to blame, really, but perhaps Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  But I'm not fighting them.  No way in hell.  I do blame the Soviets.  Lyndon's a good name for a Texan.  Big shoes to fill. 

Good luck, Lyndon.  You have a good day. 

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers like.author.displayName 1 Like

Of course, we could mention li'l Ricky Perry's big giveaway to his buddy, Harold Simmons, who wants to put a nuclear waste dump in West Texas.  The whole state of Nevada turns-out to stop the Nukie-poo-poo, but li'l Ricky never gave a crap about U-238, because, after all, when we protested with CPLF in 1980, we were all Commies. 

Li'l Ricky:  Sit on that and rotate. 

dfwenigma
dfwenigma

I see huge application to all sorts of things for this robot. I hope they're collecting data from it that they can use to improve the robots and make them even more anthromorphic. The robots need to be able to go where kids would go in a natural way. It's nice to know my iRobot has a cousin and that it had the same parents as this robot. We'll look back on this as the beginning of something great.

wilme2
wilme2

Good story.  Forwarding via e-mail and posting it to Facebook...

jwmplano
jwmplano

Great writing and very inspiring especially when most of what you see in the media are the examples of bad behavior and people's inhumanity. What an attitude Lyndon has. Now if he could only bottle it, many of us could use some now and then.

Robby746
Robby746

Need more stories of this sort.  Very good.

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan like.author.displayName 1 Like

This was really, really good. Nice work, Luke. 

 
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