Power Wheels to Makeshift Power Wheelchairs

The idea of modifying cars is not a new one. Just look at reality shows like “Trick My Truck.”  But the concept of adapting toy cars for children with disabilities?

Now, that’s novel.

That’s exactly what happened at the Center for Healthy Living last month. Fifty area physical therapists broke out the power tools and listened to national early mobility expert Cole Galloway, Ph.D., from the University of Delaware show them how to turn “Power Wheels” into early versions of power wheelchairs.

First, the groups ripped off the steering wheels of six toy trucks and attached big red buttons in their place. Then, they added kill switches by drilling holes into the plastic near the license plates. Next, they added padded PVC pipe frames and finally, seatbelts. Last but not least, decal stickers made the Larry the Cable Guy character car come to life.

Paula Wachholtz, a physical therapist for Papillion La-Vista School District, came away impressed. “I want to go to Toys R Us on the way home,” she said.

Paula Wachholtz, a physical therapist for Papillion La-Vista School District, came away impressed. “I want to go to Toys R Us on the way home,” she said.

The cost: $89 for each car, plus supplies. The cost for a power wheelchair: somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000-$20,000.

“Most adaptive equipment is considered medical equipment, therefore they don’t sell very many and it drives up the cost,” said Reggie Harbourne, Ph.D., associate professor of physical therapy at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute and organizer of the workshop. “This is so easy, what do we have to lose?”

Physical therapists spent about an hour transforming the toy cars. Finally, the big moment: putting kids behind the wheel for a test drive.


First up was 3-year-old Tyler Lundy, who has cerebral palsy. He was apprehensive at first. Much like a 16-year-old trying to drive a stick shift, his driving was herky-jerky at best. After a few tries, he put the red button to the floor and cruised off into the sunset (OK, it was more like the free throw line of the gym at three miles per hour, but very cute, nonetheless). Just when his parents saw their son growing up before their eyes, the car abruptly stopped. Tyler was crying. He couldn’t see his mom anymore.

“They do tend to cry the first couple times,” Dr. Harbourne said. “It’s a lot of new information. The noise, the speed, and for some it may be the first time they’ve ever caused something to go.”

But pretty soon, Tyler was back at it, showing off by using his chin to make the car go. He grinned like he was in a parade and even threw out some waves to the crowd of therapists.

Next up was Brandon. At just 11 months, he was the smallest of the children to try out the truck. Born prematurely, he is still learning to roll over. While an initial smile crossed his lips when he hit the gas, it wasn’t long before he, too, was in tears.

His face said it all: “Where’s my mom?”


The access to mobility for children who can’t move on their own is beneficial in two ways, Dr. Harbourne said. It allows them to control their environment and, simply, to socialize. Just like adults who get something new and want to show it off to their friends, kids clamor to get close to TowMater or Mater, as he’s known in the movie.

“Other kids Tyler’s age normally don’t want his toy; nobody wants a stroller. But with this, they’ll come talk to him, and he can work on his social and language skills, too,” Dr. Harbourne said.

Without mobility, kids with disabilities don’t have much of a chance to create cause and effect, which helps them understand concepts like over, under, around and through.

“If children don’t have the motor capacity to do things they cause the effect of, it can lead to delays in others area, like cognition or language. They don’t learn by watching others do things,” Dr. Harbourne said.


Parents can think of it this way. When kids knock their sippy cups off their highchairs, it’s not because they’re trying to annoy you (well, maybe a little), but rather because it helps them understand concepts like object permanence (Even if I drop this, it still comes back, again and again).

Tyler got the “cause and effect” message loud and clear. His parents were excited for him to take the car home.

“This is a great way for him to keep up with his peers,” said his mom, Jennifer. “Just like any typical boy…he loves to go fast.”tysmilesm

Observations in the DOC


A few Fridays ago, I headed up the hill for lunch with plans of assembling a healthy salad just a few hours prior to my glucose test for gestational diabetes and routine doctor’s appointment. That was before I found out it was “create your own mac and cheese” day. Salad, schmalad. I got in line for the M&C.

macaroniAs I shoved my face full of macaroni until I could see only Styrofoam, it never occurred to me that this might have an effect on my glucose test. You see, I’ve since learned that macaroni = carbs and carbs breaking down = sugar, specifically glucose. And this is why I didn’t go to medical school. Science is not my friend.

As I chugged my orange glucose drink for the camera (you might see me in a future segment of Ask UNMC) I had no idea I was giving myself a sugar high.

SONY DSCAn hour later, I stopped by the diagnostic center for a quick blood draw and headed up to my appointment at the Olson Center for Women’s Health. Upon entering the exam room, my doctor kindly informed me I was a failure. At least when it came to glucose tests.

We quickly deduced that the macaroni may have played a part, but I argued that it was worth it. That was before she told me I would  have to do the 3-hour glucose test, which consists of drinking the entire bottle of glorified Hi-C and four needle pricks.

I showed up to the diagnostic center on Monday with my Kindle in hand, prepared to pass the time reading. But in between blood draws, I decided to mosey down to the Durham Outpatient Center.

As a sat there contemplating whether the macaroni bar really was worth the next three hours of my life, I noticed the elevators. Up and down they went. They’d start at the bottom empty, collect people along the way up and then deposit them on their floor of choice. The folks who got on and off  might have been here for a check-up, a consult, a cold, or cancer treatment. Whether they were off to hear good news or bad news was unknown.

I glanced at the people around me. What were they doing here? I wondered. The woman catching zzz’s on the couch…was she awaiting word on the birth of a baby? The man typing away on his tablet…was he passing time during a loved one’s surgery?

The couple that walked by with their canes in sync. The fast walkers. The slow ones. Those that rolled by in wheelchairs. Those that were led by their oxygen tanks on wheels. What brought them here today?

It made me realize I work at a place where some of the sickest people come to get better. Whether it’s a doctor working with a patient on a speedy recovery, or a researcher behind closed doors investigating a vaccine to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, there is always something monumental happening on this campus that we might not notice. We here in PR refer to UNMC as the place that “hums” and now I know it’s because of all the people buzzing about, doing their best to make people better.

One of my favorite quotes is, “A person who has health has a thousand wishes; the person who doesn’t, has but one.” How cool is it that it might be a physician, a researcher or a current student/future doctor right here at UNMC who grants that one wish?

So to answer the question I’m sure you’re all wondering: Yes. The macaroni bar was well worth it, but for reasons I couldn’t have fathomed beforehand.

P.S.: I believe it’s “create your own mac and cheese” day at the Nebraska Cafe today if you’re interested…;)


Finding comfort from grief, one stuffed animal at a time

Aidan Curry was a “wild ride from the start,” recalled his mom, Jennifer Brock, a speech-language pathologist at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, over a cup of coffee on a cold January day.

He liked bugs and dinosaurs and animals in general. Stuff 2-year-old boys are wired to love. But his mom isn’t sure what he’d be into now. Trains? Spiderman? Batman? Sadly, she’ll never know. The blue-eyed blond toddler, known to his family as “Tots,” was killed in an auto accident just before Christmas in 2011.

The Curry family had been on their way home from having family photos taken in Lincoln.  A semi-tractor trailer slammed into the back of their car, which held a sleeping Aidan and his little sister, Ansley, in the backseat.

“The car seat wasn’t enough to save Aidan, but the car seat is the only thing that saved Ansley,” Brock said. “Ansley walked away without a scratch.”

Dad Jeff was trapped in the driver’s seat. Brock was shaken up. The ambulance arrived and medics strapped Ansley to a backboard before they whisked her away to the hospital. She was conscious and alert the whole time. Seventeen-months-old and all alone.

Brock struggles to imagine what the experience must have been like for her daughter. On the ride to the hospital, as doctors she’d never met examined her, while she underwent multiple tests, there was no one and nothing familiar to her until someone handed the little girl a homemade quilt. A comfort item. Something recognizable in the midst of the unknown.

And that is where the idea for Aidan’s Animals comes from. “Born out of tragedy but maintained by love,” the non-profit organization was started by the Curry family to honor their son’s short, but meaningful life and remember the kindness that was shown to their daughter in her time of need.

“When you don’t have mom or dad or your sibling, this way you have a teddy bear or a stuffed dog, something to hug when you go to radiology, for blood work…a constant cuddle, something familiar.”

Aidan’s Animals has provided cuddles to more than 800 children in the Omaha area and beyond. Whether it’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center or Bellevue Medical Center or further away in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, the Brock family continues to give back tenfold what they received those fateful days following Dec. 3, 2011.

Now they want to do it here.

Starting Friday, Aidan’s Animals will conduct a toy/stuffed animal/blanket drive called “Kuddles for Kids” through Feb. 28. The items will be donated to the pediatric units at The Nebraska Medical Center.

UNMC and The Nebraska Medical Center employees are encouraged to contribute to any of the drop sites on campus (listed below). If individuals would like to contribute but are unable to get to a drop site on campus, they can always donate to the cause through Aidan’s Animals wishlist.

“At some point, everyone is faced with a tragedy,” Brock said. “We hope to minimize the effects by offering the highest level of support and creating more positives out of ordinarily horrible and devastating ordeals.”

Tomorrow, Feb. 20, will mark what would have been Aidan’s fourth birthday. Last year, his parents brought treats for his day care friends – cupcakes with cars on them — and opened the presents they’d purchased for him prior to his death, a bug light projector and a marine biologist play set. Brock isn’t sure how they’ll mark the occasion this year, but one thing is certain, it won’t be forgotten.

“I had an initial fear…and I still do…. that he’ll be forgotten,” Brock said. “He had no chance to create a legacy for himself, but he was an incredible person. We just want people to know how special he was.”

Through Aidan’s Animals, they will.

Here’s a list of NEW items employees can donate for the pediatric units at The Nebraska Medical Center:

-Art Supplies
-Tables & Chairs
-Stuffed Animals

In addition to the following med center drop off locations, individuals can bring items to the Walmart, 1606 S. 72nd St. in Omaha, as well as at Aidan’s Animals headquarters, 2809 Angie Dr., in Bellevue.


Clarkson Hospital lobby
Munroe-Meyer Institute, Psychology Department on the 3rd floor
Munroe-Meyer Institute, The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders on the first floor
UNMC College of Public Health
Durham Outpatient Center lobby
Kiewit Tower Entryway
ITS building entrance
Sorrell Center Alumni Commons
Center for Healthy Living

For more information, e-mail aidansmama3@gmail.com or visit Aidan’s Animals Facebook page.