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New set of wheels: PT and OT faculty, students modify miniature cars to improve patients' mobility

July 28, the Occupational Therapy Laboratory in Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions looked somewhat less like a rehabilitation clinic and somewhat more like an auto body shop.

As part of a 2017 Dr. George F. Haddix President’s Faculty Research Fund Award earned by Stacy Wong, BS’07, DPT’10, an instructor in the Department of Physical Therapy, and Marisa Sevick, OTD, an instructor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, students from both departments were hard at work modifying miniature, battery-driven cars for children with mobility challenges.

“Hearing from the parents of some of my patients that their children just wanted to be able to move, it sparked something in my mind,” said Wong, co-investigator on the Haddix grant. “I started thinking about how we could engage with the kids and the families to improve their mobility doing things that children do. With the car idea and the Haddix grant, things just fell into place.”

Wong learned about a University of Delaware initiative, “Go Baby Go,” which purchased rideable toy cars and modified them with push-button accelerators and PVC cages for added protection. The faculty at Delaware published the modifications online, encouraging other pediatric physical therapists and occupational therapists to address their patients’ mobility complexities with the cars.

Having medical complexities limiting mobility, Wong said, means children can have trouble just keeping up with family or friends while playing or strolling the neighborhood. At a young age, that inability to move can be a discouraging obstacle. With a motorized car just right for a child, Wong and Sevick are hoping some of those barriers can be lifted.

With their own spin on “Go Baby Go,” Wong and Sevick applied for the Haddix award, seeking funds for the cars and laying out a study whereby they could monitor the children’s use of the cars and any uptick in mobility. The study allows for five children, ages 18 months to five years, to receive cars with an eye toward expanding the program if the initial results are positive.

“We know that if we give children mobility early on, it boosts their confidence to explore their environment,” Sevick said. “It’s a way to help the children keep up with their peers. I think parents are always looking for experiences for their kids to just be kids and we hope this is a way that we can do that.”

Sevick and Wong said the modifications are simple but have been matched to the children and their specific needs. Over a 12-week period, the study will ask parents to keep tabs on how often the child uses the car, what kind of benefit they see their child receiving and how they see mobility being improved.

Under the hood of a flashy yellow Fisher-Price car, occupational therapy students Cody Funk and Alexis Woodie, and physical therapy students Thomas Myers and Brandon Barber, receive confirmation that their modifications have worked. A battery is plugged into the rewired electrical system, the new push-button accelerator is pushed and the car’s wheels respond with a happy whirr.

“When you’re a kid, life is all about being able to move and explore,” Barber said. “I hope in doing this, we’re giving kids a chance to do that.”

Woodie agreed.

“A big part of doing this is helping kids keep up with their friends and be a part of the group,” she said. “If they can do that, in some small way, I hope they feel like just another kid among the kids in their neighborhood.”

July 29, following the modification session, which employed five four-student teams from the Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy departments, Wong, Sevick and their would-be mechanic students met the children and families to present the improved autos.

“I hope this will stimulate the kids and get them moving their muscles in different ways,” Myers said. “I expect there will be a lot of smiles using these cars. That’s something we always like to see as therapists.”

If the first five cars rolling out of the lot are successful, Wong said she hopes to expand the program in years to come.

“It’s a great way for a child to be engaged with their peers, with their family,” she said. “They are able to do things that a typical child can do, even things that parents might have thought were not going to be an option. We look forward to hearing the responses to the cars and hope there are a lot of positives coming.”


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