For most children, getting their first bike is a magical experience. But for those with special needs, it can take a “miracle.”
Just ask Paul Sikes of Fraser. After his daughter Mila was born several months premature, advocates at the Beaumont Health System and Children’s Miracle Network arranged for funding to help pay for equipment, such as an incubator bed, that she needed to grow stronger.
“We take her to Beaumont two days a week and her therapist is amazing,” Sikes says. “As Mila got older [and stronger], they told us about the [bike] program.”
Last June, Mila joined more than 100 other children on what’s called “Bike Day,” when they come and pick up a free, custom-made “adaptive cycle” at Beaumont’s Center for Children’s Rehabilitation.
The bikes are free because Beaumont is part of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The network is a nonprofit that raises funds for 170 member hospitals across the U.S. and Canada.
Beaumont has been part of that network for over 30 years, says Tom McGannon, vice president of community engagement at the Beaumont Health Foundation. He adds that the bike event is just one of the programs supported by the network. Roughly $4 million is raised locally each year through corporate sponsorships with companies such as Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Speedway, and Rite Aid, foundations like Live Like Max, plus private donations and fundraisers such as the annual “Walk for Miracles” at the Detroit Zoo where walkers are encouraged to dress as their favorite superhero character.
“We could never do this without the foundation support,” says Deborah Adsit, a supervisor at the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation. “They provide the majority of the money. But it’s [also] not possible without the greater team. We usually have — between our different clinics — easily 40 to 50 volunteers [including] the therapists and the office staff.”
One important day is in May, when the children are fitted for their bikes. They’ve been identified through their physical and occupational therapists, who find those who will most benefit by strengthening their psychosocial skills, their coordination, and more.
“We have bikes that they can pedal with their hands if they can’t use their feet,” Adsit says. That way the clients can build upper extremity skills and trunk control.
Once Bike Day arrives, the therapists and bike vendors are on hand to make sure the bike is fit properly to the child. Such customized bikes don’t come cheap. They can range from $350 to adapt a tricycle to bigger bikes with more adaptations that can run as high as $5,000.
One vendor producing these custom bikes is Creative Mobility of St. Charles, Ill. The owner, Hal Honeyman, understands the children’s situations all too well. When he and his wife had triplets that were premature, one ended up with cerebral palsy.
His family owned a local store called The Bike Rack, and Honeyman found a way for his son to join the family when riding. The experience he learned adapting his son’s bike led to him to help others.
“Some of the bikes are very customized,” Honeyman says. “We meet with clients and their therapist to find out what bike is best for each child.” Their reach now extends well beyond the Midwest, shipping “adaptive cycles” as far as Japan and Saudi Arabia.
This year will mark a milestone for Beaumont’s bike program. Since 2004, they’ve spent over $1 million, and after this year’s event, they will have given away nearly 1,000 bikes.
As for Mila, her father Paul says she’s “pedaling by herself now,” and while she’s grown a bit since last year, the bike is adjustable and should be good for a few more summers.
And when she outgrows it?
“When the child is done using the bike, for whatever reason, they give the bike back,” Adsit says. After being completely refurbished, the bike can get passed along to another child who needs it.
“We’ve taken patients up to 23 years of age … those are the patients that have had a long-term pediatric disability,” Adsit says, adding that recently, the program has been averaging 100 bikes a year, “depending on how much money is raised and the needs of the children who come to us.”
This year’s Walk for Miracles will be at the Detroit Zoo on June 16. Visit beaumont.org for more information.