Alexis Phillips said she spent hours looking for a toy electric ride-in car to give her son, Wyatt, for Christmas, but she could not locate one he could safely use. Fate intervened, she said, when Wyatt’s physical therapist, an alum of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Physical Therapy (PT) Department, introduced her to GoBabyGo!
Soon, 3-year-old Wyatt will have his very own toy car to take home, as UTHSC hosts the second-annual GoBabyGo! Memphis Rodeo on Saturday, July 21, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the Student-Alumni Center at 800 Madison Avenue.
The program, which was launched in 2006 at the University of Delaware by Cole Galloway, PhD, FAPTA, gives children with little mobility the independence to explore through toy ride-in cars adapted to their special needs.
“His physical therapist presented this to us, and I thought it was totally awesome,” Phillips said. “I said absolutely this is great. This is allowing him to see himself doing his own thing. Hopefully, that will help him even more to start walking. He can see that he can have the independence and go himself.”
Since January, volunteer faculty, staff, and students in the UTHSC Physical Therapy Department have partnered with engineering students from the University of Memphis to work with eight children and their families on customizing and retrofitting the cars. The children were referred from community therapists.
Some families, including Wyatt’s, have driven hours to work with the students on custom fitting the cars.
During the GoBabyGo! Memphis Rodeo, the final cars will be unveiled for the participants and their families. The event will provide an opportunity for participants to drive their cars around and have fun.
Customization of the cars ranges from supports placed in the seats to help children who don’t have adequate trunk control sit up straight, to straps to hold them safely stay in place while seated. Modifications have also been done to help children, who may not have the strength in their legs to use a foot pedal, power the car with their hands from a button on the steering wheel.
Third-year PT student Ashely Aycock has been working to customize the cars. “The other day at the fitting, it was just so fun to see the kids light up when they saw the cars,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing. To see them have that opportunity that they may not have without it is really cool to see.”
Kunal Singhal, PT, PhD, assistant professor in the PT Department, and Luisa Ramírez de Lynch, PT, DPT, C/NDT, are the faculty advisors for GoBabyGo!, along with Richard Kasser, PhD, PT, associate professor.
This program offers students an opportunity to participate in team-based learning and lets them do something positive for the community, Dr. Singhal said.
“When you are volunteering your time and contributing your time to help families and their kids, that gives you a lot of satisfaction,” he said. “As faculty, we get a lot of satisfaction seeing the students experience this.”
Aycock couldn’t agree more. “It’s always beneficial to work with others toward a common goal,” she said. “In physical therapy, if you work in a hospital setting, you are going to work with nurses, doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, and different health professionals, so I think it’s always good to be able to work in a team setting.”
Funding for the program relies heavily on donations in order to provide the service free of charge to families. This year, GoBabyGo! has been funded through grants and donations from Variety Children’s Charites and private contributors. Variety Children’s Charities also funded the first GoBabyGo! held at UTHSC in 2016.
“GoBabyGo! has been a great experience,” Dr. Singhal said. “At the end of the day, that happiness we see on the kids’ faces and the families means and says a lot. That is the driving force behind all of this.”
Those interested in sponsoring GoBabyGo! can contact Michelle Nixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-448-8387.