UTHSC, Christian Brothers University to Host GoBabyGo! Rodeo September 14

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Olivia Helton is one of the six children who received a customized car for the upcoming GoBabyGo! Rodeo on September 14. She is seen here in her pink Mercedes. (Photo by Emily Lawson/UTHSC)

Physical therapy and occupational therapy students from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, along with engineering students from Christian Brothers University, will host the third-annual GoBabyGo! Rodeo at UTHSC September 14. The event will unveil electric, ride-in toy cars adapted by students and faculty from both institutions. Modified toy vehicles will be provided at the rodeo for six young children with disabilities who otherwise would not be able to use them.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon in the UTHSC Student-Alumni Center, located at 800 Madison Avenue. Admission to the event is free, and the public is invited to attend. Attendees will hear a brief presentation about the Go Baby Go program and then will get to see the children try out the cars in a specially designed area on campus.

The GoBabyGo! initiative was launched at UTHSC by the Department of Physical Therapy in 2016. Since it began, 22 children with disabilities children have received cars through this program. The children were referred to the program by community occupational and physical therapists.

The rodeo is the culmination of an eight-month process. Students from both institutions, under the supervision of faculty, are charged with modifying off-the-shelf, ride-in toys according to each child’s specific needs. The cars allow their recipients an opportunity to explore their environment more independently and safely, while also having fun.

“The OT students and I have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside others from the UTHSC PT and CBU engineering programs” said Stephanie Lancaster, EdD, MS, OTR/L, ATP, CAPS, assistant professor and program director in the Department of Occupational Therapy. “Our experience with GoBabyGo! allows us to both spotlight the distinct value of the profession of occupational therapy as well as to learn from those with training and experience in other professions.”

Students and faculty from UTHSC and CBU worked together to retrofit cars for the children. For the first time ever, a firetruck will be among the displayed cars. (Photo by Emily Lawson/UTHSC)

Individual attributes taken into consideration are body size and growth potential, room and depth, and electronic need or point of access for power. Modifications to the cars may include anything from moving the foot pedal to a steering wheel switch, raising the seat height, and adding pieces or harnesses or anything that would allow the child to move.

Noah Vongphit, a recent electrical engineering graduate from CBU, has been exposed to a new realm of knowledge in his field thanks to the multidisciplinary collaboration with UTHSC students and faculty.

“I have learned so much about how electrical engineering can be applied the field of occupational and physical therapy,” he said. “It has showed me a new world that I did not know had a place for electrical engineers. Areas such as prosthetics, developing ways to analyze and study data to find trends in behavior are areas of study that I did not know engineers can be applicable to. From what I have experienced, I believe that projects like this can really offer new opportunities and careers that engineers still in their undergraduate studies might not have thought about.”

Third-year UTHSC physical therapy student Cara Levi is the physical therapy student lead for this year’s event and has helped in previous years. “What keeps me coming back each year is the excitement on each child’s face when they get their car and learn to be independent,” she said. “It has broadened my horizons professionally to the different diagnoses that may be seen in a pediatric setting and how to work with those in different disciplines, such as OT and engineering. As one of the family and student liaisons this year, I have had the privilege of getting to work closely with many of the families being served by GoBabyGo! which has made this experience even more meaningful and special to me.”

GoBabyGo! was started in 2006 at the University of Delaware by Cole Galloway, PhD, FAPTA, to give children with little mobility the independence to explore through toy ride-in cars adapted to their needs.

Funding for the program relies solely on donations in order to provide services free of charge to families. Individuals interested in sponsoring GoBabyGo! can contact Bethany Goolsby, associate vice chancellor for development in the UTHSC Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at bgoolsby@uthsc.edu or 901.448.8212.