A child from suburban Chicago making his first trip to a NASCAR race now has memories for a lifetime! Drew, age 12, had a VIP experience at the track thanks to NASCAR driver and Shriner David Ragan. On race day, Drew was able to visit pit row, the garage and the hauler vehicle for Ragan’s official car. Drew's brother and father were also able to attend the crew chief meeting as David’s guests.
They knew watching this race would be extra special, as Ragan was driving a car sponsored by Shriners Hospitals for Children. Unfortunately, stormy weather moved in and forced a 3-hour delay mid-race. But in the end the event was completed, and the family loved the opportunity.
Drew, a rising eighth-grader from Naperville, spent his previous two weeks in outpatient intensive rehabilitation at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. He has a condition called transverse myelitis, which requires him to use leg braces and crutches to walk, or a wheelchair. Transverse myelitis is a rare spinal cord injury disorder that can leave children partially paralyzed, with limited mobility and bladder and bowel problems. During his two-week visit, Drew received physical and occupational therapy using the latest technology, including a Reoambulator™, which uses robotic legs to help him walk.
A sudden change
The family discovered Drew’s condition when he suddenly fell to the floor at 16 months of age, no longer able to walk as he could before. “He was so young and could not talk. He would just cry,” said Liz, Drew's mother. The parents were not aware that Drew’s spinal cord was inflamed and actually attacking itself. Eventually two different hospitals confirmed his diagnosis.
In 2010, the family brought Drew to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, where a team of pediatric spinal cord injury specialists began a care plan for him. The hospital’s family-centered care and services reassured his parents during Drew’s treatment. “Shriners Hospitals is unique in the way they care about the whole child and their family,” said Liz. “They make a hospital feel fun and social, rather than the typical sterile and cold environment you might expect. Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago is Drew’s favorite place!”
Between therapy and clinic visits, Drew is frequently found on the hospital’s indoor wheelchair basketball court. This same court is where Ragan got a chance to try wheelchair basketball himself a few days before this year’s race. He made a stop to visit patients and personally invite Drew to be his VIP guest. Patients created handmade signs to welcome the professional driver and enjoyed taking photos and talking with him.
Ragan said he enjoyed playing wheelchair basketball for the first time with patients including Drew and Alec, a national patient spokesperson, who is also a patient at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. Drew’s parents said the NASCAR experience was the perfect way to wrap up the two-week visit to Shriners Hospitals.