By Becky Walz,
Like a lot of teenagers, Logan Manderfield just wanted to drive. But in Logan’s case, getting on the road wasn’t as simple as passing a permit test and taking driver’s education.
The Turkey Valley high school junior was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) a rare, progressive genetic condition in which muscle tissue continues to weaken, at 16 months. Children typically become wheelchair-reliant by early adolescence and the disease more frequently impacts males. The “typical” activities teens take part in become increasingly difficult, and sometimes impossible.
DMD patients and families learn that dreams sometimes stay dreams. Yet sometimes, they become reality. Logan’s parents, Don and Lyndsey Manderfield, dreamed that Logan would drive to prom one day. On Saturday, April 24, after years of training and vehicle modification, Logan did just that. He pulled out of his rural St. Lucas driveway and drove to his junior prom.
The ‘road’ to getting on the road
At 14, Logan earned his permit and completed driver’s education like many teens – in his case, just with the use of pedal extensions. Since obtaining his permit, Logan has become more wheelchair-reliant, making a modified vehicle he could drive from his motorized wheelchair a necessity.
Logan’s Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) counselor Kayla Baxter connected the Manderfield family with Driving Ambitions, an El Paso, Texas company that works with disabled persons desiring to drive. Owner Chris Courtney and son, Michael, helped the family determine necessary modifications, then train Logan to use them. Logan completed 30 hours of joystick training in August 2020 with a perfect test score. An on-the-road test with the Mason City Department of Transportation (DOT) in a modified van earned Logan his license.
Then came the task of locating a vehicle for the St. Lucas teen.
“Chris knew we were searching for a vehicle. Then he got a call from a former client, Drew, asking questions about selling his 2015 Chevy truck. It had taken two years for the truck modifications to be completed and unfortunately, by that time Drew no longer had the capacity to drive. Once he heard of our situation, he wanted Logan to have his truck,” said Lyndsey.
While the truck’s modifications alone would have cost around $80,000, the state of Texas had paid for them, allowing Drew to sell it to the Manderfields at base value. Lyndsey and Don concocted a work cover story so Don could fly to Texas in September. Unbeknownst to Logan, dad was picking up his new ride. When he got home, he parked in the garage and the family unveiled the surprise.
“I was so shocked to say the least – and asked if it was for me,” said Logan. “When we flipped the door open to the truck, his eyes got wide, added Lyndsey. “It was probably the most excited I have ever seen Logan.”
Remaining work on the vehicle included replacing the left-side throttle with a right-side joystick and more. The specialized nature of the vehicle modification business results in extended waits. Logan’s truck was completed March 2021.
“A week before we needed to take Logan to an appointment in St. Louis, Courtney suggested we ensure Logan’s new wheelchair fit on the platform that loads him in,” explained Lyndsey. “Sure enough, it was just a little too big. So, we had to get Randy Hageman to weld about a one-inch piece on and change the tire base width of Logan’s chair to make it fit.”
The family spent Easter weekend completing four days of required training. Logan and Chris drove area highways and stopped at McDonald’s, Kwik Star and more, as Logan learned to ask for assistance getting his food from a drive-thru window or when filling his tank.
On Tuesday, April 6, Logan pulled out of his driveway for his first solo voyage to Turkey Valley High School. He was greeted by his classmates in support of his achievement and newfound independence.
“I was resigned to the fact that he would probably be driving a van. He really didn’t care what the vehicle was, as long as he could drive it. Let’s be honest, this could be the only vehicle Logan will ever own, because we don’t know how long he will be able to drive. Most boys with DMD never drive, so we want him to have this freedom and independence as long as he can. This experience was literally life-changing for Logan and the rest of us. It’s not just driving for Logan. It’s a whole new world for him,” said Lyndsey.
“This process took such a long time, but it’s worth it,” added Logan – from the driver’s seat.