Car simulator helping patients learn transfer skills

The basic move of getting into and out of a car is something most of us probably do multiple times a day.  But for someone who has suffered a stroke or spinal cord injury, that maneuver can take months of physical therapy to re-learn.

A car transit simulator offers training in a safe environment for patients regaining mobility.

It has been one month since a farming accident left Lucas Stewart of Vinton pinned underneath a hay bale. 

In an instant, Stewart lost the feeling in much of his body and with it, the ability to walk, stand or drive.  "When it happened, I knew I broke my back," he said.

CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital occupational therapist Orlando Berlanga has been working with Stewart in the TRAN-SIT Car Transfer Simulator: a safe alternative to practicing in the parking lot of the hospital, which was the only real-time option prior to this equipment.  "We would definitely practice on different levels of mat tables and then we would go down to their actual car if they could bring it here and do hands-on with their car," said Berlanga.

This system will adjust to the height of your car, truck or SUV and it has hand controls for patients that can no longer use the foot pedals.  "Anybody that can't use their legs, they can use the hand controls for the gas and the brake," said Berlanga.

One of the most important tests to see if it is safe for a patient to once again get behind the wheel looks at the reaction time when starting and stopping.  "We know they can get in the car safely and we can do actual practice with their families and make sure everything's safe," said Berlanga.

Stewart says the therapy can be exhausting, but it is worth seeing little improvements, like the feeling returning to his legs.  "I come in and do the best I can. I try to do as much as I can," he said.

Stewart's dream is to see this car transit simulator bring him one step closer to his ultimate goal.  "I plan to try to walk again," he said.

The TRAN-SIT Car Transfer Simulator at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital was donated by the Tarver family with Tarver Ford and Lake Charles Toyota. The system costs about $15,000.

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