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Giving the gift of mobility

Opinion: Columns

May 28th, 2019 1:45 PM

By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Mobility is freedom for children with spina bifida. Go Baby Go ensures these kids enjoy that freedom. The Forest Park Kiwanis Club is one of its supporters. They are joining other Kiwanians at an event on June 1 at Shriners Hospital to give the gift of mobility to children suffering from spina bifida. Shriners was selected because it's the headquarters of the Illinois Spina Bifida Association, headed by Matt Larsen. 

Go Baby Go is the brainchild of physical therapist Cole Galloway. He came up with the idea of providing miniature motorized cars to kids with spina bifida. Many of these children are wheelchair bound. This doesn't just limit them physically. They are also isolated socially. They feel helpless, dependent on their parents to push or carry them.

Parents and their children with spina bifida will descend on Shriners to help Kiwanian volunteers assemble really cool cars. Late-model BMWs no less. They will get plenty of expert advice. Engineers from the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab will make sure the cars are properly wired. Physical therapists evaluate each child, so the start button is placed in a position where they can easily access it.

The event brings together volunteers from as far away as Dixon, Illinois. Students from local high schools and colleges are also helping out. 

"They experience the tingling feeling of building something to help someone else," said Bill Piper.

Bill has been in Kiwanis for 40 years and is a member of the River Forest-Oak Park Club. He collected donations from Kiwanis clubs, recruited volunteers and organized the event. He will be joined by the club's president, Rick Gillis, who acts as technical coordinator. They face many technical challenges, depending on the child's disability.

Most cannot operate a foot pedal, so the start button is mounted in a place where they can easily access it. Some are installed behind the child's head, so they can simply lean back to start the car. The car also has a kill switch on the back to keep the child safe. It's no wonder Galloway refers to our local Kiwanians as the "Illinois Dream Team."

They certainly made a dream come true for Biviana Hernandez, a 5-year-old with Spina Bifida. Her father, Sergio, heard about the program from Matt Larsen at a Spina Bifida event. Sergio brought his wife and daughter to Go Baby Go in 2016. They built a white BMW and decorated it with colorful decals. Biviana's legs have nerve damage, so they placed the start button on the steering wheel. She couldn't wait to drive. 

Though she lacked the strength to turn the steering wheel, that didn't keep her from taking a spin outside Shriners. As she drove, she smiled and blew kisses to onlookers. Now she has mastered steering and drives in her front yard. Neighborhood kids flock to see her BMW and Biviana lets them take test drives. 

During the winter, she drives around the house. Though she cannot walk, she can climb out of the car and push it out of tight places. Once her parents took her to a parking lot to practice. She spotted a McDonald's and wanted to motor past the drive-thru window to order her Happy Meal. Driving the car has helped Biviana emotionally, socially and physically. 

The Go Baby Go event is not open to the public, but parents of children with spina bifida are encouraged to check it out. They can also attend a fundraiser on Sept. 7 at Autobahn Country Club, where they can watch racecars and check out BMWs that can actually use a drive-thru. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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