Marianjoy helps put pediatric patients behind the wheel

For 22 pediatric patients with disabilities, it was a chance to test drive some specially modified toy vehicles, learn about their own independent mobility and improve their social development.

For the more than 80 volunteers who were on hand for Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital's annual GoBabyGo workshop, it was a chance to put smiles on lots of young faces.

The program at Marianjoy in Wheaton, part of Northwestern Medicine, focused on adapting electric toy vehicles into vehicles young patients can drive.

"The concept is to provide a fun, safe and interactive way for children with disabilities to explore their environments, which in turn will facilitate their development," said Kathrina Prostka, physical therapist at Marianjoy. "GoBabyGo is an opportunity for multiple departments within the hospital organization to work together to create a custom solution to meet each child's unique needs."

GoBabyGo, a program founded by researcher Cole Galloway at the University of Delaware, modifies battery-powered toy vehicles for differently abled children.

Since 2015, Marianjoy has helped 82 children receive adapted vehicles.

This year, 3-year-old Daniel Cartwright of Algonquin was one of them. Daniel was born with polymicrogyria, meaning the folds in his brain are smaller than they should be. He also suffers from joint contracture, which limits his mobility.

"Daniel was adopted from an orphanage in Vietnam," his mother, Jessica Cartwright, said. "This vehicle will give Daniel the freedom to play and explore the world around him. Right now, it's hard for him to keep up with everyone, but thanks to this car, he'll be able to play with his older brothers."

Alma Fernandez of Lemont shared the same sentiment. Her 2-year-old son, Mateo, became paralyzed from the chest down eight months after birth.

He currently receives therapy at Marianjoy several days a week. Upon seeing his new car, Mateo's face lit up and he immediately wanted to drive.

"Look at the smile on his face," his mother said. "Mateo is typically very scared and shy, so I wasn't sure how he'd react to it, but he loves it. It's bringing him joy. He's such a happy baby right now."

The Marianjoy Pediatric Program and Northwestern Memorial Foundation at Marianjoy worked together to establish a GoBabyGo chapter at the hospital in 2015.

Together, they have helped children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other congenital disorders through the program.

This year, six different types of vehicles were built for patients and, for the first time, joysticks were adapted to some of the cars.

The highlight of the event was the "Road Rally," where patients test-drove their vehicles.

A new "pit crew" also was in attendance, giving previous Marianjoy GoBabyGo participants the chance to bring their vehicles in for upgrades.

The program is independently sponsored by local businesses and donors. A new sponsor this year, Autotruck, provided both donations and representatives to help at the event.

"For many of the children receiving customized toy vehicles, this will be their first experience with independent mobility," said Suzanne Skala, director of NM Foundation at Marianjoy. "We are grateful to our donor community for coming together to support these children through their time and generous donations."

The program also has had a ripple effect outside the hospital's walls.

Boy Scout leader Patrick Kronenwetter, a GoBabyGo volunteer and member of Marianjoy President's Advisory Council, has applied the program's teachings farther west.

After learning the GoBabyGo process at Marianjoy, along with two Boy Scout volunteers, they adapted a GoBabyGo vehicle at a STEM-o-Rama event last fall in Sandwich.

The vehicle was donated by the Marianjoy GoBabyGo program and together they worked with Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital to identify a local Sandwich patient who would benefit from the vehicle.

Since then, additional Scouts within their crew have expressed interest in adapting vehicles for patients in need and some attended this year's Marianjoy event to learn more.

For information on how to support the event, visit

Daniel Cartwright of Algonquin rides in a car at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine. It was an annual GoBabyGo workshop for 22 pediatric patients with disabilities and their families. Courtesy of Northwestern Medicine
Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, hosted its annual GoBabyGo workshop for 22 pediatric patients with disabilities and their families. More than 80 volunteers from the community and health system were on hand to adapt electric toy vehicles into vehicles these patients can drive. Courtesy of Northwestern Medicine
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