Keeping in Touch — Thanks to Jobot

Family love and caring made real by a robot.

by Shirley Gilbert

Jo Szeto with Jobot.

Jo Szeto with Jobot.

Meet Jobot.

She’s five-foot-six inches tall and weighs 174 pounds. I wouldn’t call her a beauty — there aren’t many curves on her body — but she can sashay from room to room, come and go at a command, has dozens of digital capabilities and communicates like crazy.

You’ve probably already figured out that Jobot is a robot.

She is named after Jo (Josephine) Szeto, AAUW Fremont Branch member and Fremont resident, who is housebound and fighting lymphoma as well as an allergic skin reaction arising from medication needed for chemotherapy.

The robot, which was placed in Jo’s home by her son Yulun Wang, is a huge help to her. It allows Yulun in Santa Barbara and her daughter Mei in Portland to join her as she goes about her day. They can see her prepare dinner, they can chat with her about how she’s feeling and they can see how her skin infection is progressing by zooming in on her arms and legs to get a closer look.

And since Jo’s immune system is under siege from her lymphoma, she can’t have visitors who have colds or any communicable illnesses. Therefore, Jobot is a great way for her to keep in touch with the people she loves and who hate the idea that they can’t come see her.

“I love having Jobot in my house,” says Jo. “the picture and sound are very clear. It’s like having my daughter Mei and my son Yulun right here with me.”

When I came to see Jo the other day I entered her house on Thornton Avenue, washed my hands, then was surprised to see Jobot sway into the room with a screen filled with her son Yulun’s face. And very soon there were Jo and I appearing on a separate screen.

Up Close and Personal:  Yulun checks on how his mother is faring. You can see Jo and interviewer Shirley Gilbert in the TV insert.

Up Close and Personal: Yulun checks on how his mother is faring. You can see Jo and interviewer Shirley Gilbert in the TV insert.

Dr. Yulun Wang, a PhD engineer, doesn’t just happen to have robots at home ready to give to his mom in need. Robots are his passion and his business. He is CEO of In Touch Health, a 12-year-old Santa Barbara-based company with a few hundred employees that manufactures and installs healthcare robots in hospitals and medical facilities.

While the application of the robot in Jo’s home is a bit unique — it’s used mainly for communicating with her family — In Touch Health robots are a great boon in the health care environment. For example, they can allow a doctor to make hospital rounds in an ICU remotely from home even in the middle of the night.   They can help with stroke evaluation and other life-threatening illnesses, interact with patients and zoom in on different parts of the body, make CT scans visible…just a myriad of helpful duties that make it easier for medical professionals to diagnose and treat patients.

According to Yulun, the key to having robots in the health care world is to improve the quality of the care and lower costs at the same time. “They really extend the reach of a physician — and that’s so important in today’s cost-conscious, fast-moving health care environment,” he explains.

Jo Was Devastated

Jo had an active and successful career in the Bay Area. She was a real estate broker for 35 years and retired recently. She was also an elementary school teacher and worked as a substitute teacher for many years.   These days she teaches yoga, sings in the Centerville Church choir, and is very active in Fremont AAUW working with girls to better their math and science skills and is part of the One Book, One Community program that brings great books for discussion to the citizens of Fremont.

Recently her well-ordered world was overturned when she was told she has something called low-grade lymphoma. This type of blood disease arises in the lymphatic system and is the most commonly occurring cancer. Approximately some 1,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with lymphoma every day. The cells affected by this disease are part of the body’s immune system.

Jo has always been healthy with plenty of energy and dozens of friends and interests. When she couldn’t shake off a cold and a cough she met with her Kaiser internist so he could subscribe some medication.   Jo hadn’t been to the doctor for three years so he decided to do several tests and the tests indicated she had some form of blood cancer. He referred her to an oncologist.

As soon as her three children, their spouses and her grandkids heard about her illness they surrounded her with love, affection — and their undivided attention.

“My kids have always called me but now they call me daily. And their calls are so unhurried. It’s like they are visiting me in person. We talk about my medical stuff but we just talk about life and just hang out together,” says Jo.

Her son Gene Wang, despite being the busy CEO of a software company called People Power, takes Jo to every Kaiser appointment.

Jo with her daughter Mei Wang who is an earthquake engineer based in Portland.  She visits her mom two ways:  in person and via her brother’s robot.

Jo with her daughter Mei Wang who is an earthquake engineer based in Portland. She visits her mom two ways: in person and via her brother’s robot.

Her daughter Mei Wang, an earthquake engineer, flew to Fremont from Portland to hold her hand during her chemo treatment and her son Yulun not only checks on her thanks to his robot in her home, he also used the robot his company sold to Kaiser to beam into her hospital room when she’s had to go to the emergency because of very high body temperatures which might indicate the presence of infection.

On Mother’s Day Jobot helped rally the whole family to honor Jo and remind her how loved she really is. Her son Gene played the guitar and serenaded her with her favorite songs, Yulun and his family joined in via Jobot and Mei did the same with her family in Oregon. “I’m so pleased and grateful for my family,” says Jo, “and for all the help and good wishes I’ve received from friends. Despite my illness, I feel like a very lucky woman.”

And that goes too, she adds, for her good friend Jobot.