Tricked out wheelchairs an extra treat for Halloween

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) –The truly monstrous pandemic stomped some of this year’s Halloween fun. When a child faces physical challenges, losing Halloween can be depressing. The staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City decided to apply creativity to keep the costume fun going for kids who use wheelchairs

For several years now, the employees have been building costumes to go around the wheelchairs. The tradition started with a few costumes and now has moved to 40.

They call it the Costume Clinic. This year it’s a little different. Dawn Wright, the Hospital’s Director of Communications, says, “Every child getting a wheelchair costume has their own special date and time, and a “pit crew” devoted to them to help ensure the safety and social distancing of the participants this year.”

One of this year’s participants, a young boy named King, enjoyed having his crew build the costume around him.

“King was premature when he was born,” Isabel Salinas, King’s grandmother, “He’s been with me since January. They are getting him ready for Halloween with his Halloween costume. They’re building him a Mickey Mouse roadster.”

It turns out King really likes Mickey Mouse.

Building the costumes around the wheelchair takes work. Cutting out the parts, drilling the holes, gluing the shapes.

While working on the wheels, Scott Jerome said, “I think our rear ones are going to spin a little bit, this is kind of a work in progress, and you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out, but it just keeps getting better as you go.”

Torill Contos, a volunteer coordinator at the hospital, worked on the wheels, “We just had cardboard wheels, and maybe I will do this,” She puts a white circle over the black circle, “these are the front wheels, and the back ones will be bigger.”

Not everything goes right during the build. “It’s always a work in process, but it always seems to come out.” Scott Jerome jokes.

The crew keeps building to work through the mishaps, the area looking more like a big craft table mixed with a pit crew.

Creating the costumes is done, and there is no charge to the patients; the hospital reaches out to corporate sponsors to manage the costs of the costume clinic.

“Our corporate sponsor is Spirit of Children,” says Dawn Wright, “It’s part of Spirit Halloween, and they’ve given almost half a million dollars to the hospital, and it helps make this clinic happen.”

Even with masks on, you can’t hide the smiling eyes of the crew.

Contos adds, “It’s so rewarding to see how excited the kids are, I love doing crafts too, so, it’s just a win, win situation.”

On top of everyone’s mind is the pandemic. Scott Jerome leading King’s crew, said, “Where with COVID now we want to bring it, we want to keep everybody safe. That’s always our primary goal, and so we bring the kids in one at a time.”

And as hard as the pit crew tries not to make mistakes, sometimes they botch it. One mouse shape wound up getting glue applied to the wrong side, the lines to draw the tape exposed. How do you fix it? A big sharpie does the trick.

The build begins to come to an end, extra touches like tissue paper flames, and real working headlights. Which before sticking them on, the crew figures out how to give the car a mouse-like personality with the light placement.

The entire project is the brainchild of Matt Lowell another physical therapist. The staff joked that if you’re part of the department, you are part of the costume clinic.

Dawn Wright says the effects on kids are good, “Making these larger than life costumes for the children, has the effect of making them the center of positive attention and allows them to be anything they want for Halloween.”

The staff quickly adds the final details for King’s costume, a tap on the wheels, a quick alignment, the lights come on, and King gets into his Mickey Mouse hat, then back in the driver’s seat, and the biggest surprise of all, when he hits the switch, the car starts to move out.

King is all smiles as he begins to drive his car across the floor.

“It’s just nice to see him driving.” says Claire Behnke

He takes it across the floor and starts driving it around in circles.

Another moment of smiling so hard the mask can’t cover it, Jerome adds, “Hey, if King is happy then we’re happy, he looks like he’s having a good ole time.”

And looking at King, the only person in the room who we can see smile, he’s very happy.

Happy Halloween!

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