SALT LAKE CITY — When Amy Nicole Williams was born, she struggled to breathe.
Her mother said everything went fine during her pregnancy, but minutes of low oxygen levels at birth changed her daughter's life forever.
Now cerebral palsy is a part of everyday life for 8-year-old Nicole and her parents, Andrew and Maria Williams. They regularly travel from Saratoga Springs to Salt Lake City for treatment at Shriners Hospitals for Children. But driving in the car is tough at times.
"Her car seat is just too small for her. I’m sure she’s not comfortable at all," Maria Williams said.
That's why the not-for-profit hospital recently opened a new car seat clinic for children with special needs.
"We learned that a lot of our patients are so uncomfortable in their ill-fitting car seats," said Dawn Wright, public relations director. "They don’t go on road trips because that’s a long time in the car, and they know their kid is in pain."
She said parents often have a hard time finding commercial car seats for kids with orthopedic conditions. But there were no community resources to help provide families with the proper medical car seats.
At the hospital's Special Needs Car Seat Clinic, certified technicians, pediatricians and staff members offer medical assessment and car seat inspection and installation for patients.
On Friday, hospital staff measured and fitted Nicole to a customized car seat that fits in her parents' car. The hospital provides new customized car seats for patients regardless of a family's ability to pay.
"One of our goals with the summer starting up is to get our patients' cars road-trip ready," Wright said. "Beyond summer road trips, we started to think about how much time our patients are spending in a car just to come to their appointments."
Wes and Kim Marshall drove over an hour from Evanston to receive a new car seat on Friday. Their 10-year-old son, Danny, has multiple disabilities and grew too tall for his car seat.
"I feel like he’s safer," Kim Marshall said as she watched technicians install the new car seat. "In the other one, he can get his arm out from underneath the seatbelt."
Technicians Scott Jerome and Tom Wilkins work in the wheelchair and seating department of the hospital. Last year, they attended national trainings to certify for the clinic.
"We bring them in, we evaluate with the doctor, then what we do is actually put them in the car seats," Jerome said. "We fit them in the car seats, and then we put them in the car and fit it to the automobile and the child in the car."
The clinic opened last December and staff served over 30 patients so far.
"If there is no commercial car seat available for these special needs kids, then we need a medical car seat," Jerome said.
Customized car seats can cost thousands of dollars, a medical cost many families can't afford and private insurances won't cover.
"It's been considered a convenience item," Jerome said. "But it's medically necessary."
So far, Medicaid is the only insurance plan willing to cover the customized car seats.
"To get a special, customized car seat like this really helps us out. It’s going to give us peace of mind that our daughter is safe and protected," said Andrew Williams. "She’s comfortable in here, she’s playing with toys, she’s got tons of padding, tons of room. She’s going to be a happy traveler."