GoBabyGo! founder joins MMI for September event

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | October 07, 2019

Image with caption: Piper, left, and Lincoln try out their new cars during the September GoBabyGo! Nebraska! build at the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

Piper, left, and Lincoln try out their new cars during the September GoBabyGo! Nebraska! build at the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

Fifteen month-old Piper Smith broke into a big smile as she powered her toy car down the hallway outside the Munroe-Meyer Institute's gym. Lining the walls, volunteers laughed and applauded as Piper's dad, Don Smith, and mother, Nichole Parker-Smith, helped keep Piper on track.

Piper, a 15-month old with a diagnosis of spina bifida, was one of 11 children with mobility issues who visited MMI in September to take part in the latest GoBabyGo! Nebraska! event. Volunteers from UNMC, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton University, the Omaha Public Power District and others were on hand to take part in the "build," in which toy cars are modified for toddlers who, like Piper, have mobility difficulties.

The build was particularly memorable because Cole Galloway, Ph.D., the founder of the national GoBabyGo! program, was on hand to take part.

"As a mobile adult, a non-caregiver and somebody who doesn't have a disability yet, it's really critical for me and other professionals who purport to care for people to be recalibrated constantly, to be reminded about the actual grounded, day-to-day experiences," Dr. Galloway said. "Coming to a place like Omaha, where you have communities partnering with corporations partnering with universities, it helps me learn a lot.

"I wish people in Omaha knew how 'positively disruptive' this is on the industry, the medical establishment, on insurance providers," he said.

Cars are given to families for free. Adapting the cars costs about $500 for materials (compared to $10,000 to $15,000 for specialized manual or power wheelchairs), and the costs are met through donations, going all the way back to MMI's first build in 2016, which was supported by the Munroe-Meyer Guild.

UNL freshman engineering students Jacob Maguire and Christian Redler, members of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), were taking part in their first build.

"It's nice to be able to do some hands-on stuff," Redler said.

"It's enjoyable and a worthwhile cause," Maguire agreed.

Andrew Carlson, a UNL student and officer in the IEEE, is more experienced than Maguire and Redler -- this was his fourth build -- but just as enthusiastic.

"I love getting to work across disciplines, and I love working with all the UNMC students, because they always have a lot to teach me and I have a lot to teach them," Carlson said. "I love seeing the kids when they show up, I love getting to see how happy they are to finally be able to move somewhat of their own volition. It's very satisfying to see the whole project come together, and it's a really fun morning every time I do it."

MMI physical therapist Joanie Bergeron, part of the volunteer team that coordinated the build, called the volunteers -- who also included physical and occupational therapy students from UNMC and Creighton University, engineers from OPPD, as well as the engineering students for the UNL program based at UNO -- "the future."

"They are the most important," she said. "We couldn't build 11 cars without this volume of volunteers. We want people from different programs to know each other and realize how an engineer thinks is different than an occupational therapist is different than a physical therapist, but we can all come together to think of things from different angles and come out with a really good result."

Certainly Piper gave Saturday's efforts a big thumbs up. When dad Don switched her car into reverse, she took off backward without ever losing her smile.

"This is very exciting," said mom Nichole, adding that she hopes to see Piper "being like every other kid out there that gets to move and go," and even play with her 4-year-old brother. "Maybe now she can catch up and 'run' with him through this."

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Anne Lawlor
October 07, 2019 at 12:45 PM

What an amazing story! Thank you to everyone who is involved with this.

Joan Ewalt
October 07, 2019 at 11:08 AM

Oh those kiddos look so happy!

Tom O'Connor
October 07, 2019 at 10:32 AM

Really nice story! GoJohnGo!