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Rehabbing To Get Behind The Wheel

April 14, 2011, 6:10 PM by Kelli Grant

Rehabbing To Get Behind The Wheel
COLTON, SD - Driving down an open highway can be freeing. It gives you a sense of independence.  But as we age, driving can become much more of a challenge.  And that independence can quickly be taken away.

A program at Sanford is helping people with certain medical conditions stay behind the wheel and sometimes hand over the keys.

70-year-old Harvey Mathieu is back at home after 22 days in the hospital. He suffered a stroke in his kitchen. Luckily, he was able to dial 911.

“I moved my foot back and it felt bad, so I move it back a little further and went down,” Mathieu said.

That stroke set him back. Just a few months later, he's back in the driver's seat.

But taking over the wheel didn't just happen over night. Mathieu went through a driver evaluation and training program at Sanford Health.

“I look at people who've had various things happen to them, whether it's a stroke, head injury, maybe an amputation and we go and see if they can get back to driving,” Maria Klamm, a Driving Rehab Specialist at Sanford Health, said.

Klamm gives patients a clinical assessment, checking vision and then reaction time using a mock accelerator and brake.

It's a test Mathieu passed with flying colors.

“She said, 'I want you to take your foot off the gas and put it on the brake.'  And she said 'Holy cow.  You did good.'  Split second, she says good,” Mathieu said.

Klamm took Mathieu out on the road where, again, he passed and got to keep his driver's license.

“My goal is really to keep people driving safely as long as possible,” Klamm said.

So how is this different than going to DMV? It's all about understanding your challenges because of your unique medical history.

“We really understand the medical condition and so we can look for those things that might impact them based on their driving, basked on what their medical condition is,” Klamm said.

Mathieu is happy to be back on the road. That's because driving is what gives him freedom. He drove a tractor for 30 plus years, then drove a truck and now retired, he volunteers parking cars.

Still he understands the importance of being safe on the road and says he'd comply if his keys were taken away.

“When it comes to that time, you should be off the road if you can't see what you're doing. You see that a lot of times; you just can't handle it,” Mathieu said.

For now, Mathieu is handling the road safely.

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