It's been a year since Avera McKennan started it's Drive Smart Program and in that time rehabilitation therapists have helped nearly 50 people get behind the wheel again safely. We took a spin with a recent graduate of the program who is grateful to be back on the road to independence.
Even just getting behind this wheel has been an adjustment for Steve Miller. In June of 2005, almost over night, he lost all movement in his legs.
Steve says, "I woke up. Got dressed. I bent over to put my shoes on and my legs basically gave out so I went to the hospital."
He was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis. Inflammation of his spinal cord damaged his nerve cells beyond repair. When Steve started using a wheelchair he gave up getting behind the wheel of his car. That was until last year when he met Driver's Rehabilitation Therapist Angie Schrader and joined the Avera Drive Smart program. It's now housed at the Avera Living Well Center.
Angie says, "The drive smart program enables individuals the opportunity to go through a drivers evaluation, look at the their skills, vision, cognition, motor reaction. Basically, their ability to get back behind the wheel. We help a variety of patients. Those who have spinal cord injuries, amputations, strokes and even those with learning disabilities. They will go through 6 -10 hours of training and that's in the office and then out in a car in the parking lot and eventually we will merge them into traffic. I go with and have controls on the passenger side. Then they will have to get a new driver's license through the department of motor vehicles."
One of the new tools Angie uses for one of her clinical tests is called the DynaVision 2000. Patients stand in front of a board with red squares that light up individually. As soon as a light comes on, the patient pushes the button and another light comes on. It gives Angie a chance to see how quickly they react to different stimulus.
Angie says, "I'm using it more as a judgment call. What red flags are out there that I need to be aware of when I get in the vehicle with them. "
Steve says, "The independence is amazing to have. It's been 4 years since I've driven. It's a whole new type of thing. It's not just hopping in the car and going anymore."
Angie says, "Steve's a great example. He used to drive independently and now he has to learn to drive a totally different way with hand controls."
Hand controls graciously donated by Prairie Freedom Center. He has a knob on the left side of the steering wheel he uses to turn the wheel with his left hand, and below the windshield wiper control on the right side is combination control for braking and accelerating. It's like the throttle for motorcycles. Steve preferred that type since he used to ride a bike.
Steve says, "Your brain says right foot, left foot but you have to relearn everything."
Steve says it's has been a long hard haul adjusting to all the changes in his life, but he says there is nothing more satisfying than the freedom he feels behind the wheel. He's grateful to the Drive Smart program for putting him back in the driver's seat.
Steve is currently taking classes at the University Center in Sioux Falls and if he couldn't drive himself he wouldn't be able to get to all of his classes because the Para-transit bus schedule didn't match his.