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‘Car’ aids in rehabilitation at Helen Porter

MIDDLEBURY — Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (HPHRC) officials spend a lot of time helping injured patients become mobile enough to take that much-anticipated ride home. They routinely practice getting in and out of a vehicle as part of their transition to independence, though practice has at times required bundling up for parking lot visits in rain or snow.
Thanks to a fruitful collaboration between HPHRC, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and some local businesses, rehabilitating patients will be able to practice in comfort and style for their ride home and the many others that follow. The parties joined forces to produce a specially modified, bight-yellow car that they wheeled into HPHRC on Monday.
Affectionately dubbed the “pug,” “egg” and “l’uovo” (the Italian word for egg), the sleek little rig used to be a rusted-out, 15-year-old Ford Escort wagon that could easily have been served its last rites. Someone donated the car to the career center’s automotive and diesel programs as a project for its enterprising students. The project idea came from HPHRC, and career center Executive Director Lynn Coale embraced it.
“It was a fun project,” Coale said as he and others gazed upon the 9-foot-long, 6-foot-wide car that’s been mounted on a steel frame with casters to move it to various training spots in the HPHRC building.
Career center students were largely responsible for cutting the old Ford Escort down to a user-friendly size and transforming it into a hollow husk.
Stephen Lowry, a 16-year-old junior from Bridport and Aaron Clark, an 18-year-old senior from Bristol, were particularly active in the project.
Clark participated in work that included cutting the two back doors out of the car, then welding the two halves together. That shrank the car length by more than three feet. Students also removed the engine, wiring and other “guts” from the vehicle, which will now only move with people power.
Lowry and his colleagues channeled their collective efforts into fabricating a steel frame onto which the modified Escort shell was placed. That frame was equipped with caster wheels to allow it to be manually pushed.
“It turned out a lot better than I anticipated,” Lowry said of the vehicle. “It took a lot of trial and error.”
The “egg” left the career center this past November and made its journey to Ferrisburgh for work at Restoration & Performance Motorcars and Sylvain Broderick’s Auto Body LLC. Peter Markowski of Restoration & Performance Motorcars was particularly effusive about Broderick’s work on the vehicle.
“He pretty much took it on,” Markowski said of Broderick, who shored up the bottom of the “egg,” made sure the doors and trunk functioned properly and did a lot of finish work. Markowski delivered a vehicle on Monday that, from the exterior, looks like it came off a lot ready to drive. But of course turning a key in the ignition would be futile; this ride is pretty much made to be stationary — but still very useful. The new vehicle provides a perfect, indoor training prop for patients with impaired mobility as a result of strokes or orthopedic procedures like hip and knee replacements. Under the supervision of HPHRC staffers such as Physical Therapy Assistant Willy Savage, patients can now practice sliding into, and out of, a realistic facsimile of a vehicle and all its interior pitfalls (dashboard, steering wheel) without having to brave the outdoor elements.
Savage said HPHRC routinely works with an orthopedic caseload of 17-25 patients.
“It is more ‘car looking’ than I expected,” Savage said of the final product, adding “you can buy these (modified cars), but we don’t have the budget for it.”
Doreen Kadric is admissions director at HPHRC. The modified car has been on the center’s wish list around 12 years, she said.
“It will be put to good use,” she promised.
Porter Medical Center officials expressed their gratitude to those who helped hatch the “egg.”
“We could not have accomplished this wonderful project without the contributions and collaboration of the Hannaford Career Center and their students, Peter Markowski and Sylvain Broderick,” said Ron Hallman, Porter’s vice president for development and public relations. “Their generosity and community spirit will allow Helen Porter to offer more comprehensive rehabilitation services to countless members of our community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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