Welding students retrofit three-wheeler

Article and pictures by Tammy Lane
May 21, 2008

For many kids, riding on the handlebars of a bike is a dangerous thrill. But for Dani Pruitt, a medically fragile 4-year-old girl, a specially-outfitted car seat on the front of a red three-wheeler is a safe place to be.
  Thanks to the efforts of a hospice volunteer and a welding instructor, Beth Pruitt’s dream of taking her daughter for a bike ride has finally come true.
  “We got two people who are problem-solvers together, and it got done,” she said while taking her first spin on the bicycle rebuilt for two.
  The “new” bike is simple but far from ordinary. It had to be retrofitted for Dani, who has a genetic neurological condition. She cannot swallow or cough, and she cannot sit up because she has no muscle tone.
  Jim Lamirande, a welding instructor at Southside Technical Center since 2000, did not see Dani’s condition as an insurmountable challenge. Having modified wheelchairs for special-needs patients before, he led a handful of welding students to embrace the project.
  What resulted was a bike that can safely carry the little blonde girl, who attends Rosa Parks Elementary School when her health allows.
  The idea was born when Cheri Swartzentruber, the hospice volunteer who drives Dani to school, learned of Pruitt’s desire to take her daughter for a bike ride – a simple pleasure that many people take for granted. Swartzentruber, who grew up near a technical school, called Southside and happened to get Lamirande on the phone. The project took off from there.
  Lamirande found the three-wheeler at a local bike shop (think adult-size tricycle with all the wheels roughly the same size); it had belonged to an older woman now in an assisted living facility. Lamirande met with Pruitt twice – to brainstorm design ideas and to make sure the car seat fit Dani properly. Then he and his welding students set to work.
  They mounted the off-the-shelf car seat in front of the bike’s handlebars, using rust-free aluminum for the shelf-like brace and brackets.
  “My main concern was having it securely attached to the bike,” Lamirande said.
  Since Dani has to lie flat, the car seat is fitted horizontally, with her head near the bicyclist’s right hand. Lamirande also opted for lower handlebars since Pruitt has to be able to watch Dani’s chest to monitor her breathing.
  Pruitt said she’ll likely carry a suction machine and store a resuscitation bag in a backpack when she and Dani are biking near home. “We’ll never be far from a power source,” she added.   The bike, which has a deep basket in back, already supplied stability with its three-wheeled design. Added features include extra padding in the head of the car seat and Velcro straps to hold Dani steady. Another precaution Lamirande added is a metal clamp to restrict the handlebar’s movement and prevent sharp turns in either direction.
  Greg Keinath, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, pitched in with the design changes and modifications.
  “I’m glad I could help somebody and touch somebody’s life,” he said.