Hazel Thomson, 19 months old, threw her head back and unraveled into a giggly fit as she pressed her tiny hands onto the round button in front of her.
Just like that, off she went, relishing in an experience she had never before embraced.
“I was recruited for this initiative from the very start about a year and a half ago,” said Darcy Dzurino, third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at the University of Central Florida. “Since then, I have been able to network with many clinicians, sponsors, and volunteer organizations.
It has been amazing to see the different diagnoses of children we help, hear their stories and witness their families' enthusiastic reactions.”
Thomson is one of many children born with motor impairments and given an opportunity to experience the first glimpses of increasing independence through the UCF Go Baby Go! initiative started in 2015 by Dr. Jennifer Tucker, a pediatric specialist and associate lecturer for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at UCF.
UCF Go Baby Go! strives to provide innovative, affordable and accessible strategies to help improve the lives of individuals with limited mobility. Early mobility and exploration of the environment is imperative to a child’s physical, cognitive and social development, Tucker said.
Dzurino is a graduate research assistant working under Tucker for this specific initiative.
“Currently, our program has Go Baby Go! workshops, harness systems, research labs and the launch of Florida’s first therapy café, the Knights on the Go Café,” Dzurino said. “Harnesses are integrated into the café for people with disabilities to have an opportunity to interact with people around their age, embrace movement and coordinate the daily operations within the establishment.”
On Friday, Sept. 9, UCF Go Baby Go! hosted their fifth workshop at UCF’s Fairwinds Alumni Center. It was the first time the program collaborated with Orlando Health.
Ten cars were built and decorated by third-year DTP students, community partners, sponsors, and families. Pictures and videos were then captured as many of the children experienced their new freedom of mobility for the first time.
Orlando residents Thomas Thomson, 45, and Cynthia Thomson, 39, are Hazel Thomson's parents.
Hazel Thomson was born with Down syndrome and limited lower-body movement, Thomas Thomson said.
July of 2016, the Thomsons attended the National Down Syndrome Congress’ annual convention in Orlando, where they came across UCF Go Baby Go!. Intrigued, they placed their daughter in one of the cars.
“We were super excited to see Hazel use it for the first time because it gave her the ability to make decisions for herself.” Cynthia Thomson said. “There are so many things she wants to do and she is just not there yet. This can help ease her way to getting there.”
With this opportunity Hazel Thomson is now able to go outside, be in control and be mobile with her two sisters, Thomas Thomson said.
“It took her two seconds to learn how to use the car,“ Cynthia Thomson said. “She was like ‘Whoa I’m moving!’ When she took her hands off and it stopped, she immediately put them back on.”
“You could see her expression,” Thomas Thomson said. “She was thinking this is really cool.”
The convention was also where Tucker received the President’s Award from NDSC President Marilyn Tolbert in recognition of UCF Go Baby Go!’s efforts.
“That moment was exceedingly overwhelming because there is nothing more meaningful than to be recognized by the families we serve,” Tucker said. “So to get an award from an organization that represents those families says we are doing just what we are supposed to do.”
Tucker said UCF Go Baby Go! is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
“We are building a community," Tucker said. "We are connecting with families. We are connecting with clinicians. And we are working collectively for something possible. We are just grateful to have the support of our university and our community partners to continue to strive and meet that need.”
In October, UCF Go Baby Go! will be attending the National Student Conclave for physical therapy in Miami to build, Dzurino said.
“Being able to attend nationals is an astounding accomplishment,” Dzurino said. “We are hoping to have the momentum continue.”