By Carrie Carroll
University Public Affairs
Kids with limited mobility benefit from cross-campus collaboration
Simone Woody, a first-year physical therapy student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Allied Health Professions, volunteered at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU over the July 22-23 weekend to benefit patients’ in CHoR’s physical and occupational therapy program.
Woody, along with 24 other volunteers that included VCU physical therapy students and faculty, as well as CHoR physical and occupational therapists and their family members, built and modified battery-operated ride-on cars for patients between the ages of 18 months and 4 years as part of the Go Baby Go program. Go Baby Go helps make power mobility more accessible for 1-to-3-year-old patients with significant mobile impairment, maximizing their exploratory ability and independence.
“I wanted to be a physical therapist because I was interested in movement and I think it’s important to start movement at a young age,” said Woody. “This is my first volunteer event, so I wanted to see how to start that movement with kids who may not move in a traditional sense and to see how these cars can be adapted to meet their needs.”
The cars and materials were purchased with grant funding from the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary. The first grant was for $2,500 and covered five cars — three for patients and two for the CHoR physical therapy clinics. The second grant, for $6,000, covered seven cars — five sit-down and two stand-up versions — plus materials. Home Depot also donated approximately $100 in materials.
The cars were built and adapted to meet each patient’s measurements and specific mobility needs. They are light, more easily transported, child-friendly and place their drivers at eye-level with their peers, allowing for better socialization.
The volunteers were put into seven separate groups consisting of an occupational or physical therapist, a physical therapy student and a volunteer or two who was handy with tools. Each group received a car that needed to be “built,” a child’s measurements, instructions and safety materials, such as PVC pipe for side support, pool noodles for padding and a child-sized boogie board for back support.
After the cars were put together, they then needed to be rewired. Peter Pidcoe, D.P.T., Ph.D., associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Physical Therapy, was in charge of rewiring each car.
“The original wiring in these cars can’t do what they want it to do,” said Pidcoe. “It’s too light and it will basically turn to toast, so I have to replace it all with heavier wiring. It depends on the car because they’re all wired differently, but it typically takes about 30 minutes per car.”
On Sunday, patients and their families attended a giveaway where they were presented with their car by the volunteers, who showed them the car’s features and how it was modified.
Two-year-old Brenden Napier, who was born with spina bifida, was thrilled with his car and wanted to keep going through the obstacle course that was set up for the kids to practice driving. Napier’s car is a stand-up version, but also has the option for him to sit down. His spina bifida causes weakness in his legs and lower half, so the stand-up option gives him the opportunity to strengthen his legs and practice standing up, but he also can operate the car while sitting down if he needs a break.
When placed on the car by his grandmother, Napier hesitated for just a moment, but when she showed him the “go” button, there was no stopping him. He rode through the obstacle course again and again, smiling the entire time.
“There’s a learning curve with these kids,” said Lucille O’Neil, physical therapist at CHoR. “They’ve never driven before, so it’s kind of like a teenager getting their learner’s permit. We look for the potential for them to learn and practice makes perfect. First, they learn stop and go, followed by the steering. This helps them develop cause and effect — they’re the ones making it happen — as well as spatial awareness like depth perception.”
“It also helps with peer interaction,” O’Neil said. “At daycare while kids are out on their tricycles, they can be out on these cars. All of the kids can be playing together in a very inclusive environment. That’s the goal — to maximize the inclusiveness in everything these kids do.”
Currently, there are kids on the wait list for a car and the list is open to expansion. Those interested in having a child screened to be added to the wait list can email Katy Smotrys, a physical therapist at CHoR, firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate materials to the program, contact Lucille O’Neil at lo’email@example.com.
“We anticipate this program will keep growing,” Smotrys said.