John McInerney: At the beginning, it was a very humble effort. I’d bring in LEGO and a few robots and set them up in the activity rooms at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. If anyone wanted to build a robot, I’d show them how to do it. I was doing that for about a year, and one day I got everything set up, ready to go, and no one showed up to the activity room. I thought, “It’d be better if I could just go to them.” The idea for the original program, Buildup Mobile, was born. I put everything into a cart and started going bedside to work with the kids. At that point I became a contractor for the patient technology team.
Burns: How did it evolve to where you are today?
McInerney: The reactions of the patients and families kept me going. There were some moments that really inspired me to continue working on this project. There was this little guy, maybe 5 to 7 years old; it was his last day at the hospital, but he didn’t want to leave until he built a robot. We built a race car with a motor, and we ended up going all the way around the unit. He called it his victory lap.
Burns: They don’t take the LEGO with them?
McInerney: No, everything stays within the hospital.
Burns: You were successful in getting a grant from The Children’s Foundation.
McInerney: Our goal is to continue to expand the program and work with as many kids as we can. This grant was our first opportunity to train someone else to run the program independent of me. We trained a schoolteacher who was interested in a career in Child Life. She was at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan for seven months. I just wrote her a letter of recommendation for her practicum, the next level in Child Life.
Burns: Do you want to be in more hospitals?
McInerney: That’s the dream — to be able to continue expanding this program to new hospitals, new spaces. Patient technology is something that is catching on in more hospitals. This past year, the first patient technology conference happened. It was exciting to be a part of that and to see other hospitals with patient technology programs where my program, like it did at Mott, could be part of that.
Burns: If anyone would like to help you expand, how do they get a hold of you?
McInerney: Our website is www.buildupsteam.org. You can directly contact me through it and get other information. You can also donate through the website. If we fundraise enough, we can partner with a hospital and fund the program for at least a year.
Larry Burns: Tell us about the autism outreach services.