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Adaptive Cars Drive Independence

“It’s a big world out there, and every child should be able to explore it,” says Virginia Girten, PT, SL, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine.

That’s where GoBabyGo comes in.

GoBabyGo equips differently abled children with modified battery-powered toy cars so that they can increase independence and improve social development. It’s a nationwide program that takes place annually at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. GoBabyGo was founded by a researcher at University of Delaware and is geared toward children ages five and younger who have physical disabilities. Marianjoy has been hosting GoBabyGo events since 2015, adapting vehicles for 82 children along the way.

This year, 3-year-old Daniel was one of them. Daniel was born with polymicrogyria, a rare genetic disease that causes abnormal development of the brain. He also suffers from joint contracture, which limits his mobility.

“The car will give my son the freedom to play and explore the world around him,” says Daniel’s mom, Jessica Cartwright. “Thanks to this car, he’ll be able to play with his older siblings.”

Beyond Play

“Early independent movement is vital for child development,” says Girten. “One of our goals at Marianjoy is removing barriers so that children can explore on their own. GoBabyGo is a compelling example of what we want to accomplish for all children.”

GoBabyGo also helps families prove to insurance companies that their child can operate an expensive powerchair. For children under the age of five, the adapted motorized car is a good stepping stone and helps them hone their ability to self-initiate movement.

Smiles for Miles

Alma Fernandez’s 2-year-old son Mateo became paralyzed from the neck down as an infant. He receives therapy at Marianjoy several days a week; after a recent visit, he left with a smile ― and new wheels.

“Mateo is typically very scared and shy, so I wasn’t sure how he’d react to his new car,” says Fernandez. “He loves it. It’s bringing him joy. He’s such a happy baby right now.”

Every Car Needs a Pit Crew

GoBabyGo relies on the time, skills and creativity of more than 80 community members, ranging from mechanical engineers to Eagle Scouts. These volunteers work in tandem with Marianjoy therapists to modify battery-powered toy cars to meet each child’s needs, whether that be by adding a joystick or adjusting the seat to better fit a child.

In addition to new participants at this year’s event, participants from previous years attended to bring their vehicles in for upgrades.

“Everyone should live their optimal lifestyle,” says Girten. “Go out and live your life. We’ll help you get there on two feet or four wheels.”