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My Bike rolls out customized bikes for Western Pennsylvania youths with disabilities

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Matthew Resh, 21, of Richland rides his adaptive bike with Charles P. LaVallee, CEO of Variety Children’s Charity (left) at the Variety Children’s Charity Celebrating Freedom Gala at the Omni William Penn, Friday, November 2, 2012. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Larry Masucci, 18 of Dormont walks into the Variety Children’s Charity Celebrating Freedom Gala with his mother Chris Masucci at the Omni William Penn, Friday, November 2, 2012. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Typical childhood rites of passage, such as unsupervised play outside, were out of reach for Matthew Resh.

Resh's rare genetic disorder, 8P lesion duplication and deletion syndrome, gives him low body tone and places him at a second-grade level academically, even though he's 21, said his mother, Jane Resh, 50, of Richland.

Six years ago, her son reached a milestone with help from a Robinson charity: He rode a bicycle for the first time, she said.

“There's very few things that give him that sense of independence,” Resh said.

Variety the Children's Charity of Pittsburgh gave Matthew Resh an adaptive bike, customized to meet his needs. The three-wheeled cycle has a pulley system to help him pedal, a backrest and a seat belt. His parents can operate its rear braking and steering devices in an emergency.

“I (have) so much fun with it. Everyone should learn to ride a bike,” said Resh, who rides his bike several times a week when weather permits.

Variety, a nonprofit organization, provides programs and services to people 21 and younger with disabilities. It began giving adaptive bikes a decade ago, under its Kids on the Go mobility program, and is starting My Bike to increase access to bikes in its 10-county service area, including Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties, CEO Charles P. LaVallee said.

The bikes can improve riders' social and physical wellbeing, but at about $1,800 apiece they can be too costly for many families, he said. Many parents instead apply for chair lifts or wheelchairs from Kids on the Go, he said.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Corbett will help the organization kick off its My Bike program at PNC Park to encourage parents of disabled children to contact Variety and suggest that businesses become program sponsors, spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.

Highmark Inc., the state's largest insurer, donated $55,000 to pay for 10 bikes and development of outreach materials.

“We're excited about the opportunity to serve as a model for others to do similar things,” said Variety board president Deborah Rice-Johnson, Highmark's division president of health services.

Variety's board members solicited donations and pledges worth $73,800 for 41 bikes. LaVallee hopes to have commitments for 100 bikes by Christmas.

At Variety's 85th anniversary celebration on Friday, a Build-a-Bike station raised about $19,000 for My Bike.

Although adaptive bikes typically have three wheels, Variety avoids describing them as tricycles because older riders can use them, LaVallee said.

Riding them can improve a person's trunk strength, cardiovascular endurance and motor skills, said Joseph Schreiber, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Physical Therapy Association's pediatric section and an associate professor of physical therapy at Chatham University.

Since receiving an adaptive bike from Variety last year, Kamryn Lambert, 11, has progressed from simply pedaling to turning. Her twin, Kyara, is still adjusting to the bike she received in August, said their mother, Kym Lambert, 37, of Washington.

Soon after their premature births, the girls were diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia — strokes delayed their development — but bike riding is one of the few activities they can do without full assistance, Lambert said.

“They know how to pedal and go fast. They love that,” Lambert said, noting the girls' school agreed to store the bikes this winter for use in their physical therapy.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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