Four children receive modified ride-on cars in UCA’s first Go Baby Go event

Aleeah Rodriguez

Occupational therapy student Destanie Nelson and physical therapy student Aaron Holschbach strap 7-year-old Aleeah Rodriguez into her new ride-on car.

Aleeah Rodriguez’s anticipation was palpable as occupational student Destanie Nelson and physical therapy student Aaron Hoschbach strapped her into her newly modified hot pink ride-on car. The 7-year-old from Jonesboro had been waiting on this day for months. Her parents Jesus and Judy Rodriguez stood nearby smiling proudly. 

“I had the phone on speaker when I got the news she may be a candidate for a car,” Judy Rodriguez said. “She has been very excited and kept asking me when she would get it. Today is a good day.” 

Aleeah Rodriguez was born with spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. She is one of four children who received specially modified vehicles as part of the inaugural Go Baby Go event at the University of Central Arkansas on April 2. 

Go Baby Go is a national, community-based research, design and outreach program focused on providing accessible, inexpensive and common-sense solutions for movement modification for children who experience limited mobility. 

UCA students began working on the idea of establishing a university Go Baby Go program in 2021. Lynne Hollaway, a clinical instructor in the UCA occupational therapy program, says clinicians from Arkansas Children’s Hospital approached her with the idea originally, and students were eager to get the ball rolling. 

Occupational therapy students built a model structure for the program as a class assignment and brought in physical therapy students. Holloway says the effort is a win-win for both the UCA and Children’s.

“It gives us a real-life, functional way to meet our goal in the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences – to be interprofessionally driven.” Hollaway said. “They provided a way for us to do that functionally. By us saying ‘yes’ we were able to make sure they’re meeting their goals as a hospital to provide best practices for client-centered care and to go above and beyond for their patients.” 


UCA students Destanie Nelson (left), Kiyaonda Fisher, Paige Jackson and Brooke Talley work together to figure out the seating for 7-year-old Aleeah Rodriguez’s modified vehicle.

Graduate students from UCA’s occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology programs formed a pit crew to guide a group of more than 50 volunteers to modify the vehicles. The volunteers consisted of UCA occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language students, medical students from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, electricians, engineers, assistive technology professionals, and community partners from Pediatrics Plus in Conway and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  

The event is the latest example of collaborative efforts to encourage interprofessional education among future health science professionals since the completion of the Integrated Health Sciences Building. 

Tykira Bullins, a graduate student in the UCA occupational therapy program, is one of several students who has been working hard with her fellow classmates and professors to make the event possible. Bullins along with speech pathology graduate student Maha Madani and physical therapy graduate student Kursten Jaime were among those in the pit crew guiding volunteers in completing the projects. 

“This is really nice because we’ve been working for months trying to prepare for this,” Bullins said. “To see it play out in front of us means a lot to see these babies have their independence. I’m really overjoyed.”

Collaborative communication is not only beautiful, Jaime said, it’s also necessary for overall holistic and client-centered care. 

“It’s just amazing to see it all come together,” Jaime said. “Seeing PTs, OTs, SLPs, med students, engineers and electricians all come together for the greater good of a patient. Even though we’re all students, that’s what care looks like in the real world. It’s all to remember we’re working for one patient. It’s great to be a part of that and be able to witness it.”

Cary Yarbrough

UCA Occupational therapy student Allison Teague makes sure the vehicle is steady as Cary Yarbrough, an assistive technology professional, works through wiring.

Madani says the experience she gained at the Go Baby Go event and the months of planning leading up to it has been invaluable. 

“I’m learning so much about PT and OT,” Madani said. “That is an experience I may not have had until my professional career.”

Arkansas Children’s Hospital identified four patients from their Spinal Cord Disorders Program who could use a modified ride-on car. The students and volunteers also build five additional cars for patients at Pediatrics Plus. The volunteers used information about each patient’s accessibility to make specific modifications to the vehicles.

Skylar Long was moved to tears when her 2-year-old son Grey Lehmann happily drove his car around the circular obstacle course the pit crew assembled for him and the other clients outside the Interprofessional Teaching Center Saturday afternoon. Long found out 20 weeks into her pregnancy Grey would be born with spina bifida. At 25 weeks, she and Grey underwent fetal surgery in Houston. 

“This means the world to me,” Long said. “I never thought he would be able to drive something like this with his disability. It is amazing.” 

Grey Lehmann

Grey Lehmann, 2, waves his checkered flag after he test drives his new car at UCA Go Baby Go on April 2, 2022.

Ryker Walsh, 2, was a little skeptical at first when he first got in his ride. But once he became acquainted, he was unstoppable. Ryker, Grey and Aleeah took several laps around the course as their families, pit crew, volunteers, faculty and staff cheered them on. 

Bullins, Madani and Jaime each expressed gratitude and fulfillment as they reflected on the success of the event and the happiness on their clients’ faces. They’re already looking forward to planning next year’s event. 

Initial funding for UCA’s Go Baby Go Event was made possible by a $3,000 grant from the UCA Foundation for the purchase of the cars and the initial supplies. UCA Makerspace and several area community members and businesses donated time, money, food for volunteers and other resources. The national program of Go Baby Go began in 2012 with founder Cole Galloway at the University of Delaware. Integrating assistive technology, families, clinicians and industry partners, the program provides children with disabilities the opportunity for movement, mobility and socialization and has been expanding ever since.