On a recent July day, the Occupational Therapy Laboratory in Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions looked somewhat less like a rehabilitation clinic and somewhat more like an auto body shop.

As part of a research award earned by Stacy Wong, an instructor in Creighton’s Department of Physical Therapy, and Marisa Sevick, an instructor in the university’s Department of Occupational Therapy, students from both departments were hard at work modifying miniature, battery-driven cars for children with mobility challenges.

The Creighton faculty members received a 2017 Dr. George F. Haddix President’s Faculty Research Fund Award.

“Hearing from the parents of some of my patients that their children just wanted to be able to move, it sparked something in my mind,” said Wong. “I started thinking about how we could engage with the kids and the families to improve their mobility doing things that children do. With the car idea and the Haddix grant, things just fell into place.”

Having medical complexities limiting mobility, Wong said, means children can have trouble just keeping up with family or friends while playing or strolling the neighborhood.

At a young age, that inability to move can be a discouraging obstacle. With a motorized car just right for a child, Wong and Sevick are hoping some of those barriers can be lifted.

Wong and Sevick applied for the Haddix award, seeking funds for the cars and laying out a study whereby they could monitor the children’s use of the cars and any uptick in mobility.

The study allows for five children, ages 18 months to five years, to receive cars with an eye toward expanding the program if the initial results are positive.

“We know that if we give children mobility early on, it boosts their confidence to explore their environment,” Sevick said. “It’s a way to help the children keep up with their peers. I think parents are always looking for experiences for their kids to just be kids and we hope this is a way that we can do that.”

Sevick and Wong said the modifications are simple but have been matched to the children and their specific needs. Over a 12-week period, the study will ask parents to keep tabs on how often the child uses the car, what kind of benefit they see their child receiving and how they see mobility being improved.

Under the hood of a flashy yellow Fisher-Price car, occupational therapy students Cody Funk and Alexis Woodie, and physical therapy students Thomas Myers and Brandon Barber, receive confirmation that their modifications have worked. A battery is plugged into the rewired electrical system, the new push-button accelerator is pushed and the car’s wheels respond with a happy whirr.

Following the modification session, which employed five four-student teams from the Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy departments, Wong, Sevick and their would-be mechanic students met the children and families to present the improved autos.

“I hope this will stimulate the kids and get them moving their muscles in different ways,” Myers said. “I expect there will be a lot of smiles using these cars. That’s something we always like to see as therapists.”

If the first five cars rolling out of the lot are successful, Wong said she hopes to expand the program in years to come.

“It’s a great way for a child to be engaged with their peers, with their family,” she said. “They are able to do things that a typical child can do, even things that parents might have thought were not going to be an option. We look forward to hearing the responses to the cars and hope there are a lot of positives coming.”

Creighton University offers a top-ranked education in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition.  Read more about the university, and connect with Creighton on  Facebook,  Twitter  and  Instagram.

Creighton University founded in 1878 and located in Omaha Neb. offers a top-ranked education in the Jesuit tradition for people who want to contribute something meaningful to the world.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.