Danielle Pruitt is a pretty typical teenager. The chatty 13-year-old loves social media, hanging out with her friends and going to school (most days). Much to her parents’ chagrin, she often introduces herself with a drawn-out greeting of, “’Sup?”
Danielle cannot move her limbs or sit up. She has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects 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 previous attempts to give 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 said.
“There are so many things we want to do for her, and it’s frustrating to not be able to problem solve,” Beth Pruitt said. “She wanted a real bike.”
In April 2016, Catherine Gohrband, a lecturer in the UK College of Health Sciences’ Division of Physical Therapy, helped a group of physical therapy students found a local chapter of AMBUCS, a national nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic tricycles to individuals unable to operate a traditional bike.
“There has been wonderful community and university support for both the chapter and the students involved with this project,” Gohrband says. “This organization has a mission to promote independence to persons with disabilities and provide children with disabilities the opportunity to pursue family recreation and leisure experiences through the use of these adapted bicycles.”
In August 2016, AMBUCS brought several bikes – called Amtrykes – to the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass for children to try out. Amtrykes can be adapted so that nearly every rider can be successful, no matter their physical condition. Danielle’s physical therapist Joanne Luciano, clinical director at On the Move Pediatric Therapy, recommended the event to the family, where Danielle rode an Amtryke for the first time. Her mother remembers the look on Danielle’s face. “It was phenomenal,” she said.
The family was not able to take a bike home that day, but they made an impression on Gohrband and her students.
Making dreams come true
Soon after the AMBUCS event, the CHS (College of Health Sciences) Staff Council was considering who might be the beneficiary of its annual Harvest Breakfast and Silent Auction.
“We wanted our fundraising efforts to go toward people and causes that were close to CHS,” Melissa Miller, CHS staff council chair, said. “After Catherine told us about Danielle, we made it our mission to get her a bike.”
Thanks to the hard work of Staff Council and the generosity of CHS faculty and staff, the silent auction was a success. 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 said. “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.
“Can you take my picture on my bike like this?” Danielle asked, as she rolled her eyes toward the top of her head. “Because it shows my personality.”
Then Danielle speeds away, very much like a typical kid.