Typically, most kids are excited to get behind the wheel on their 16th birthday, but for 3-year-old Aubrey Morgan, that thrill of driving came a few years early. Months after sustaining a spinal cord injury from a car accident, the Nebraska native got a surprise she and her family won’t forget at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals.
“Her birthday is a good day anyways, but when she saw the car, it brought her so much joy,” Abbey Morgan, Aubrey’s mother, said. “Just knowing she can control it and do something without me doing it for her.”
Through physical and recreational therapies and the expertise of her care team, Aubrey continued to gain more independence in Madonna’s pediatric spinal cord injury program, following a stay at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. When her third birthday rolled around, Dr. Arash M. Gonabadi received a request to help her roll around in some new wheels.
As the assistant research director of the Rehabilitation Engineering Center of Excellence at Madonna, Gonabadi often receives requests to create and design assistive and adaptive equipment, or device modifications to help improve a patient’s recovery. Oftentimes, the research team will create adaptations to technology or devices because the product a patient needs doesn’t exist yet. The team can create a rapid prototype in 24 to 72 hours to improve the patient’s journey here and now.
For Aubrey, her family requested that she be able to drive a car made by Go Baby Go, a national organization that adapts powered toy vehicles for children with disabilities. On a tight deadline, Gonabadi quickly went to work making some tweaks to the pink car.
“When we receive a request, the research team brainstorms to find the best and fastest way to solve the issue,” Gonabadi said. “I modified the car by putting a button on the car so she could hit the button with her head to move the car forward. I also fitted it with a new car seat and additional wheels to provide her with the support and stability she needed while seated in the car and maneuvering through the world.”
And that’s exactly what Aubrey did. With her mom close by assisting with a hand-held controller, Aubrey cruised around Madonna’s specialized pediatric unit with her care team cheering her on.
“When I see they are happy, it makes me happy because I can give them a new chapter,” Gonabadi said. “I can at least help them for a short amount of the time.”
The Morgan family, from Wausa, Nebraska, went home with the car, a memorable birthday gift during a difficult time.
“We didn’t expect her to get this and then for her to get it for her birthday; she loves it so much and doesn’t want to get out of it,” Abbey said.