Driving program helps patients get behind the wheel again safely

Rehab program provides behind-the-wheel assessment and training for patients with conditions to maintain their safety and independence with driving.

At 67 years old, Mike Donahue never figured he’d be taking driver’s education all over again. A Sellersburg, Indiana, pastor who has multiple sclerosis (MS), Mike is one of the first patients to get behind the wheel with the Norton Hospital Driving Assessment Program.

The program is for individuals affected by neurological, orthopedic or developmental conditions, and those who have experienced age-related changes in function, with the goal of returning them to safe driving.

“This is something I never thought I’d be doing,” Mike said.

Mike was diagnosed with MS in 1994. Over the past 25 years, the disease has progressed. In January, Mike’s reaction time began to slow in his legs and feet, making it almost impossible to drive. That’s when his occupational therapist, Keegan Humphrey, with Norton Neurosciences & Spine Rehabilitation Center, introduced him to the Norton Hospital Driving Assessment Program.

“This is brand new,” Keegan said. “We’re helping individuals with Parkinson’s, MS, strokes, brain tumors. If someone has a rotator cuff injury or arthritis and is having trouble with steering, we work with them as well. And vision clients — we help them too. The goal is to help a variety of patients return to safe, independent driving.”

Norton Hospital Driving Assessment Program

The Norton Hospital Driving Assessment Program is supported by the Norton Healthcare Foundation and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

Modified vehicle teaches different ways to drive

The vehicle used in the program looks very normal on the outside, but it’s quite different behind the wheel. Besides the typical steering wheel and pedals, the car is equipped with spinner knobs, extra hand controls, a left foot accelerator and turn signal crossover that allows the driver to activate the signal with their right hand.

“The car is designed so people can overcome their limitations,” Keegan said. “All of these modifications can be made to the patient’s vehicle as well.”

Because of Mike’s condition, he relies heavily on the special accelerator and extra knobs.

“Originally, it was hard to get started,” he said. “Your brain thinks different. You push for break and pull for accelerator.”

But according to Keegan, Mike has now conquered the road like a pro.

How to sign up for a driving assessment

If you believe the driving assessment program would benefit you or a loved one:

  • Obtain a physician’s referral that includes all pertinent diagnoses and contact information. This can be faxed or sent by the physician through our electronic medical records system.
  • We will contact you to schedule an appointment upon receiving the referral.
  • A valid driver’s license or permit is required for the on-road assessment and training.
  • We will send you pre-admission paperwork.

“It’s so simple,” Mike said. “If somebody needs to do this, I highly recommend it. The freedom it gives you is amazing.”

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