From the Batmobile to robotic mastodons, how this hospital turns wheelchairs into Halloween costumes

Skylar Skuza zips around in his Power Ranger costume and his decorated wheelchair at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Hospital staff and volunteers transformed his wheelchair during the hospital’s annual wheelchair costume clinic.

Skylar Skuza zips around in his Power Ranger costume and his decorated wheelchair at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Hospital staff and volunteers transformed his wheelchair during the hospital’s annual wheelchair costume clinic. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Halloween gives children a singular opportunity each year: a chance to disguise their true identities with scary costumes and get buckets of candy for free.

In the Skuza family, all the children rank it as their favorite holiday, except for 12-year-old Skylar, who ranks it third. He loves most aspects of Halloween, but trick-or-treating is a particular challenge. He needs a wheelchair to get around.

Skylar was born with spina bifida, paralysis and hearing loss, and he has been a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City since he was 2 years old.

Instead of dwelling on his limitations, he spends time planning his costume and looking forward to dressing up.

“He does talk about the Halloween costume all year long,” said his mother, Shelly Skuza.

On Thursday, Skylar’s costume — a black Power Ranger suit — received a serious upgrade.

Each year, the staff at Shriners Hospital work to ensure that children’s wheelchairs aren’t simply hindrances on Oct. 31, but actually become part of the fun.

Months before the special day, workers quiz the young patients about their costumes and how to incorporate the wheelchair into the ensemble. Then they buy supplies and “just kind of take their imagination and our imagination and put it on the chair,” said Matt Lowell, a physical therapist at the hospital.

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The idea started among staff in the hospital’s wheelchair department five years ago, and the costuming has grown in size and popularity since — among both workers and patients.

“The demand for it has grown every year,” Lowell said. “We get everybody coming back, and then we get everybody who finds out about it. … You start with a skeleton and end up with a big ol’ monster.”

This year, they plan on transforming a record 41 patients’ wheelchairs into Batmobiles, boats and even robotic mastodons — which is what Skylar requested.

In total, the program has decorated 147 wheelchairs.

“They’re kids, and they have imaginations, and you never know what they’re going to pick,” Lowell said. “So, we’ve seen everything. So it’s pretty wild.”

Because of COVID-19, this year’s costuming is taking place over several weeks. It began on Sept. 14, and the final day will be Oct. 29. Each patient is assigned a day and time to watch as their wheelchair gets transformed in the hospital’s “big play room.”

“Before COVID, I mean, this whole room was filled with kids and different stations, and so it was kind of like a party,” Skuza said.

However, the hospital is doing its best to allow patients to show off their costumes while remaining safe, and workers have scheduled a virtual Halloween get-together on Oct. 29.

The design and construction process for each wheelchair usually takes around …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News

      

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