Adaptive equipment donation gives children freedom to ride
For Paulasia Livsey, 13, and her brother, Paul, 14, the experience of pedaling their new bikes around a room at Forbes Hospital on Thursday left them wanting more of a feeling most take for granted: the joy of riding.
“Can we ride more at home?” Paulasia asked her aunt, Della Owens, shortly after dismounting her new pink adaptive bicycle.
The siblings’ three-wheeled bikes worth $1,800 apiece were two of six donated to families as part of Variety’s My Bike program during the event at the Monroeville hospital. Another six parents received adaptive strollers for their children, and 10 children received tablet communication devices. The equipment was all worth around $31,800.
The Wexford-based organization launched the My Bike program in Western Pennsylvania in 2012. The program led to the organization launching the My Stroller and My Voice programs in 2014. Since then, over 2,500 bikes, strollers and communications devices have been donated to families with children living with disabilities, which equates to more than $4 million.
Paulasia’s aunt could not stop smiling as she answered her niece’s question about taking another ride on the bike. “They’re going to deliver it to the house in a week or two.”
Owens lives in Munhall with her niece and nephew, who both have been diagnosed with varying degrees of autism. She has been looking for bicycles they can ride since they were toddlers.
“It took me years to find a bike,” she said, adding Paulasia could never get the hang of riding a two-wheeler and Paul struggled with focusing on conventional bikes.
“We see people riding bikes at the Waterfront and I’m like, ‘I gotta do something.’ They always wanted to ride a bike,” Owens said.
Joshua McCahill, 13, smiled ear-to-ear as his mom, Marcy, pushed and guided him around the room while his dad, Tom, recorded the moment on his phone.
The family first received an adaptive stroller from Variety earlier this year. Joshua has cerebral palsy and is immobile. Marcy McCahill said the stroller, which weighs less than 30 pounds and can fold to fit into a car trunk, is better than lugging around an 80-pound wheelchair.
“It’s been a blessing,” Marcy McCahill said. “He has three brothers. So when we watch him watch others do stuff, he gets a look on his face. You can just tell he wants that.”
Dr. Mark Rubino, president of Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, said what Variety does for children is humbling.
“It gives these children the ability to experience the joy of play. This always resets my priorities. When you see this … you count your blessings,” he said.
Charles LaVallee, CEO of Variety, agreed. He said the programs have made him a better person.
“Thank you families for coming out. You’ve changed us,” he said.
Ella Zeisloft, 12, of Monroeville received her second bike at the event. After taking it for a spin, she said the new bike fit her much better now than her first bike, which she’d outgrown. Her first bike was donated to another family who needed it.
Her mother, Penny Zeisloft, said the bike helped the family do the things they want to do.
“My husband and I were really active,” she said. “We liked being in the woods — we like to run, walk. Before the bike, we were not able to do that.”
Her daughter was diagnosed with hypotonia, commonly known as floppy baby syndrome, at 9 months old. The diseases causes her to have poor motor planning, Penny Zeisloft said.
Ella also was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 7.
“This bike allows us to have more freedom as a family,” Penny Zeisloft said.
To learn more about the program and its eligibility guidelines, visit varietypittsburgh.org/applynow .
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter @dillonswriting.