If you meet 13-year-old Danielle Pruitt, you will see that she is unable to move her limbs, or sit up. But her mobility limitations are not what you will remember most. Danielle’s personality is what makes a lasting impression. She typically introduces herself with a drawn-out greeting of “’sup?” and is eager to chat.
“Can you take my picture on my bike like this?” Danielle asks, as she rolls her eyes toward the top of her head. When asked why, she answers, “Because it shows my personality.”
Much to her parents’ chagrin, these are all signs of a bona fide teenager. Just like most teens, Danielle has been introduced to social media and emojis. She enjoys going to school (most days) and spending time with her friends. Danielle loves her cat, Mikon, who is rarely away from her side. She banters back and forth with her mother and father, who note that Danielle talks nonstop.
What is not like most other teens—Danielle has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder, affecting the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. She is not able to do many things others take for granted. For the longest time, one of those things was riding a bike.
Danielle’s mother, Beth, recounts the previous attempts at giving this experience to her daughter. She mentions a bike with a car-seat lying flat and attached to the handlebar. But this was not what Danielle was looking for, Beth says.
“There are so many things we want to do, and it’s frustrating to not be able to problem solve,” Beth says. “She wanted a real bike.”
In August 2016, AMBUCS, a national nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic tricycles to individuals unable to operate a traditional bike, held a Showcase and Road Show event at the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass. Dr. Catherine Gohrband, a Lecturer in the Division of Physical Therapy, along with a group of Physical Therapy students, coordinated the event, having just launched the AMBUCS Lexington Chapter in April 2016. The Chapter was a joint project between former members of Greenebucs (Dayton) and a DPT student Doctoral project.
“There has been wonderful community and University support for both the Chapter and students involved with this project,” Gohrband says. “This organization has a mission of promoting independence to persons with disabilities and provides children with disabilities and their families with some options to pursue family recreation and leisure experiences that are now available to them through the use of these adapted bicycles.”
The timing was perfect for Danielle and her family. Danielle’s Physical Therapist, Joanne Luciano, who is Clinical Director at On the Move Pediatric Therapy, recommended the event to the family. During the Road Show, Danielle rode an Amtryke bike for the first time. Amtryke offers a full line of highly adjustable trykes and adaptive accessories, designed so that nearly every rider can be successful, no matter their physical condition. Her mother calls that experience phenomenal.
“The best part was that we were doing what Danielle wanted to do,” Beth says.
The family was not able to take a bike home that day, but they made an impression on Gohrband and her students.
CHS Staff Council
Soon after the AMBUCS event, Melissa Miller, chair of the College’s Staff Council, was looking for ideas for the beneficiary of its annual Harvest Breakfast and Silent Auction.
“This year the council decided that we wanted our fundraising efforts to go toward people and causes that were close to CHS,” Miller says. “After speaking with Catherine Gohrband about AMBUCS and what they do, and Danielle, Staff Council made it our mission to get her a bike.”
Thanks to the hard work of Staff Council and the generosity of College faculty and staff, the Silent Auction was a success, raising $2,500. The proceeds were enough to purchase not one, but two Amtryke bikes.
“We are all beyond thrilled that we got to make Danielle’s dream come true,” Miller says. “AMBUCS created an opportunity that we didn’t even know could exist for her, and it was a privilege to be part of it.”
To her parents’ delight, Danielle’s wish was granted. It takes her parents and therapist about 10 minutes to situate her comfortably on her bike, with various straps and harnesses meant to hold her securely and still allow for therapeutic movement. Danielle’s joy while riding her bike is evident, as is her parents’ gratitude for this game-changing gift.
“It’s awesome,” says Danielle, who likes to go as fast as possible.
Asked about her favorite part of riding her bike, Danielle instantly replies, “The fact that I can ride a bike just like other kids.”