University News

Collaboration with Shriners Hospitals for Children Empowers Young Patients to "GoBabyGo"!

Published: January 25, 2020 | Categories: All News, Alumni, Engineering

A key to childhood development is the ability to independently explore the world around. This is challenging when children are faced with physical mobility limitations. Now, thanks to students and faculty at Western New England (WNE) University's College of Engineering and the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program, in collaboration with Springfield's Shriners Hospitals for Children, improved mobility just got a whole lot more fun and accessible!

GoBabyGo is the redesign of Kids' Ride-On Cars that modifies toy vehicles for children with varying degrees of motor control. "For many young patients, the struggle comes in the case of limited lower body mobility," says Electrical Engineering major Laura Sawyer. Laura helps Dr. Andrea Kwaczala, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering (BME) who performs research at Shriners. "The main modification made is removing the foot pedal and replacing it with a big red push button located on the steering wheel," says Laura. "Additional mechanisms to provide greater trunk support can be added, as well as an external steering cable system that allows the parents to steer for the child."

Shriners' Occupational Therapist Mary Ellen Brown says, "One of the things that is so special about working on the "GoBabyGo" program is the interdisciplinary aspect of the project. We use physical therapists, occupational therapists, engineers, and other rehab staff in a collaborative process." Beyond mobility, the key to the project's success is the supportive seating and the different vantage point on the world it provides. "We’re unlocking this potential that these kids are now experiencing in their ability to sit upright, gain better arm control, actually reach, and touch," explains Dr. Kwaczala. "Now they’re better engaged with their car and their environment and they can use that push button to make themselves go and explore the world around them."

Dr. Kwaczala is working with Dr. Brittany Adams from Western New England University's Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program in the spring. Together with six OTD students, they will plan building events and organize a GoBabyGo play group to help expand the opportunities for children in the Springfield area. They aim is to help children develop and learn through physical therapy group activities in GoBabyGo cars built by Western New England University students.

The students involved include: Tyler Thomas (BME), Laura Sawyer, (Electrical Engineering), Maura Pitluck (OTD), Emily Bissonnette (OTD), Morgan Castelbuono (OTD), Cassandra Caliciotti (OTD), Victoria Johnston (OTD), and Danielle Whitman (OTD).