Jaxon Gann, 2, now drives a white truck just like his Papa, Dale Lewis.
He was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. With his condition, playing and moving around have been difficult for him.
Through Jaxon’s physical and occupational therapists with Missouri First Steps Program, his mother Courtney Lewis was given information and paperwork for an electronic car that would be specifically designed for Jaxon.
The program, which creates these cars, is called Go Baby Go. It was started in 2012 by a physical therapist at the University of Delaware.
After doing some research, the Lewis family found a Go Baby Go chapter located at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The family has been working with Dr. Willam Janes, an assistant professor at Mizzou and occupational therapy doctor, in creating a car, or in this case a special truck, for Jaxon.
Jaxon’s truck was customized to fit his size and needs by a team at Mizzou. The truck was taken to Mizzou’s campus earlier this summer.
This past Friday, Aug. 17, Dr. Janes and his team presented Jaxon with his finished truck at Pro Body Works in Union. They spent time to work out the kinks and fix any issues.
Jaxon is able to operate the truck with hands using the powered steering wheel.
“He got in it and was just a champ,” said his grandmother, Marena Lewis.
She noted the car can be programmed to go forward and backward, or just forward if needed. There also is a kill switch in case Jaxon goes too fast.
To help other children between the ages of 1-3 receive the same benefit, Lewis said she’s putting together a nonprofit called Jaxon’s Journey. The organization would work with First Steps in finding eligible children who need the cars.
First Steps is an “intervention system that provides services to families with children, birth to 3 years of age, with disabilities or developmental delay,” according to its website.
“The goal is we give the car to Dr. Janes and his crew and then when it’s finished, it goes to the First Steps kiddos,” Lewis said. “If you’re are being seen by First Steps, then your child is eligible for a car.”
Currently, Jaxon has a stander, a gate trainer and a zippy, which is a high-standing stroller and a car seat.
“None of that equipment is cheap,” said Lewis. “A lot of people don’t have insurance or they can’t afford it.
“When in you’re that situation, First Steps always finds a way to make it happen, but we would like to make that a little bit easier for people who are strapped,” she said.
Jaxon’s test drive was recorded live on Facebook, she said. Someone saw the live feed and donated a toy car to their cause.
Lewis added that local businesses also are on board with donating cars. She said it’s been amazing to see the tremendous amount of support they have already received with the help of social media.
One way to raise funds is through T-shirts. Lewis is selling Jaxon’s Journey shirts. To get involved, buy a shirt or for more information, Lewis said to personal message her on Facebook.
The Mizzou Chapter
Mizzou has had a chapter of Go Baby Go for three years and Janes has been working in the program for the past two years. The university is one of two active chapters in the state.
The chapter is made up of faculty and students with different disciplines, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering and bio engineering — all working together to develop the cars.
All of the cars are customized to each child’s physical and cognitive needs. Mizzou’s chapter is about more than just designing cars, it’s also where data is collected to see if children are benefiting from it.
In addition to the car, the child also receives follow-up visits to see how they are doing long-term and to check that all the parts on the car or truck are working.
About 40 cars have been designed and given to children in the last three years. If a child is currently being seen by a University of Missouri health care provider, an occupational therapist or a physical therapist, they can be enrolled in the program.
The materials and everything needed for the car are free of charge. If a family comes from out of town, the child is not eligible to participate in the study, but if the parents or guardians provide the car and parts, the team at Mizzou can put it together for free.
The program at Mizzou has been funded by a nonprofit called Pascale’s Pals and from the University of Missouri Research Council.
As children grow out of their cars, the teams at Mizzou can either modify them to make them bigger or repurpose them for another child in need.
The other Go Baby Go chapter in Missouri is at Variety KC located in Kansas City. Janes said members from the Kansas City chapter helped start Mizzou’s program.
For more information, visit healthprofessions.missouri.edu/community-services/go-baby-go or facebook.com/mizzougobabygo. Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.