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Adapting youngster's car makes for a memorable day

It is a beautiful day in early May as I head to my car — on time for once. I am on a maiden journey to Jefferson High School for a Go Baby Go workshop where occupational therapist Barb and I hope to adapt an electric toddler car for 3-year-old Joey. My phone is charged and audio set for maps as I head north on I-5. Audio prompts me to exit right onto Killingsworth.

Turning, the phone slides into the abyss of the passenger foot-well. Silence suddenly reigns. Quickly, I park and reclaim the phone. I enter the school’s address but audio fails. Trying to read and drive, I find myself roaming in circles on Humboldt Street, Albina Avenue, then Skidmore Street, looking for Kerby Avenue.

The phone rings. “Where are you?” asks Barb. Lost! She advises I find Kerby and look for a large, grassy field adjoining a brick school. I note a brick building and park just ahead. Oops! This is not Jefferson. Back on Kerby, I see yet another brick structure several blocks south. Yes, it is a school, Boise Elementary.

The phone rings again. “Where am I?” The Oregon State University students and family await. Now more than 20 minutes late, I head north, only to find that Kerby ends in blue row houses. Confused, I meander around several streets and, suddenly, there’s the field! I find a parking place.

Jefferson High School is a composite of multiple additions made over many decades. I am looking for the “old gym.” That large, brick building next to the fields looks promising. I knock on its many doors. All are locked. The corridors, yard and streets are empty. Alone and frantic, I phone Barb; voice mail answers. Around the building, between chain-link fences, I briskly walk, now 40 minutes late, and see yet another addition with large doors. Again, I knock without results. Two ladies, in very high heels and night-time finery, come sauntering down the shaded street. They kindly direct me to the school office on the opposite side of the buildings. Retracing my steps, I am now running. Up crumbling, steep stairs I go, only to be directed to a small tunnel entrance opposite my parked car. The “old gym” is upstairs.

I arrive an hour late. Joey and his mother have been patiently waiting. Assisted by OSU students, Barb and I begin to rewire the electric car so that Joey can use a hand switch to operate it. We add various supports to stabilize his head and body using PVC piping, swim floats, therapeutic vests and Velcro belts. These are bolted into the little car.

It has taken three years for Joey to be able to hold his head upright for three to five minutes. He requires full body support to do so, to sit. Recently, he began to use simple, purposeful motions with one arm when thus supported. Our hope is that Joey can have independent mobility with this little car, which is a far less expensive option that an electric wheelchair. Experience indicates it will take much practice.

In and out of the electrical car over the next hour, with multiple adjustments being made, Joey and his mother calmly participate as they watch other children begin to navigate adapted cars. Parents chat among themselves, with OSU staff, or with several reporters present. Some children fuss; Joey just smiles happily.

At last we are ready for a test drive. Joey is placed in the car; head and trunk supports fastened, and he is off with an ever-widening smile. His mother and Barb run beside him, ready to offer interference between car and wall, bleachers, etc., but they don’t need to do so.

Around and around the gym Joey zips in his little car, navigating the circle. Occasionally, he lifts his hand in excitement and the car slows. He quickly replaces his hand on the throttle switch to move ahead.

Joey’s smile never ceases.

Tears stream down his mother’s face as she and Barb hold each other and cry in happiness.

Yes, I was terribly lost and terribly late, but that’s not why it was a memorable day.

Information regarding the Go Baby Go program can be found online at health.oregonstate.edu/gobabygo.

Josie Seymour is a retired physical therapist and a member of the Jottings group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.