By Polly S. Kennedy
The morning was chilly and a bit dreary but that did not dampen spirits as parents, Family Health West (FHW) therapists, and Colorado Mesa University (CMU) engineering students looked on as our FHW littlest pediatric patients rode their adapted cars around the grounds of the Confluence building on a Saturday in March 2023. For some of the tots, this was the very first time that they became mobile!
Three-year-old Hazen, face lit with glee, went around and around the indoor walkways with a huge grin.
“My favorite part is this is so community inclusive,” said Hazen’s mom Alicia Shideler. Hazen, the youngest
of four, was joined by his siblings at Saturday’s event.
“Hazen was born with low muscle tone and has had 26 surgeries,” said Alicia. “This collaboration
between Family Health West and CMU engineering students gives him some independence, and I love to
see him smile.”
There were 15 therapists from FHW, and 51 engineering students designing the cars for
6 special needs children.
This year, one of the families was Spanish-speaking only, and CMU provided a translator to
communicate the needs of the child for his car build-out.
“This was a special occasion for all of us,” said Uriel Rivas, with his wife Candelaria Quintero and child Soid Rivas-Quintero.
“This was a wonderful thing,” said Jerald Payton, father of Salem Payton, with wife Christina Payton. “It
was nice to see them all working together. This program is so great, it will allow our child access to the
neighborhood and community that she otherwise might not have. We really want to thank everyone,”
In a group photo, a sea of bright colors separated each team with the FHW Pediatric Rehabilitative therapists wearing fluorescent pink.
Several families drive from as far as Vernal, Utah (258-mile round trip and five-hours traveling time) and
Montrose (150 miles round trip and three hours traveling time) for pediatric rehabilitative therapy at FHW.
“We adore Family Health West,” Stephenie Gayler, mom of RaeLynne Gayler, who drives from
Vernal with her husband Jerry. “Anouk has taught Rayelynne so many things and has helped guide us
in how to help her with her disability. She has never doubted Raelynn’s capabilities. I am grateful she
believes in Rae like I do,” said Stephenie. “Go Baby Go was a blessing for my daughter. She is so happy to
be able to play like everyone else without her limitations stopping her. CMU and FHW made that
possible. I’d like to thank everyone so much. I can’t express how thankful we truly are!”
Blake and his wife Andrea Masturd drive their son Mateo from Montrose to Fruita several times a week.
Saturday was a family event as Mateo’s grandparents also attended the Go Baby Go event.
“Family Health West is just awesome,” said Blake. “We tried to find other options in Montrose, and did do therapy in Montrose, but after giving it a couple of months, we decided we needed to return to Fruita for the care Mateo receives. FHW provides quality care and early intervention,” Andrea said.
Andrea Goodwin, an FHW pediatric therapist, is in her sixth year of working at Family Health West. She and the director of the Pediatric Rehab Clinic, John Weirath, works hard every year to coordinate this event along with Sarah Lanci, CMU Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.
“This is such a great project! CMU students work in multidisciplinary teams to wire the foot pedals to hand-accessed buttons and they customize each car with physical modifications to meet the specific needs of each child,” said Lanci. “We have students from engineering, occupational therapy, outdoor recreation, computer science, sports management, and biology, among others. Students are put in teams that consist of a mix of disciplines and they learn to lean on each other’s strengths and work toward a common goal. Some of our students come into this project with no knowledge of electric circuits or how to use hand tools and they leave with a new skill set that they can apply to other aspects of their lives. Some students come into this project because they get to tinker and they leave with an appreciation for how their knowledge can impact someone else’s life. The Go Baby Go project focuses on giving mobility and sociability to the children who receive the cars but everyone involved benefits.”
The three work hard to make sure Go Baby Go comes off without a hitch. Once again, the day was
nearly perfect, as six little lives were changed, perhaps, forever.