Driver program helps grounded pilot regain independence

Mark Ideson remembers taking the helicopter he piloted for Toronto radio station traffic reports for a maintenance flight just outside of Kitchener/Waterloo on February 2, 2007. But he doesn’t remember it crashing into a farmer’s field. He awoke from an induced coma 10 days later with 29 broken bones—including his legs, pelvis and neck—and the news he had quadriplegia.

Mark spent six weeks in acute care, and four months in the spinal cord rehabilitation program at Parkwood lnstitute. For a man used to navigating the skies, being grounded in a wheelchair wasn’t enough.  “I wanted to drive again. I missed the ability to get up and go, and felt guilty relying on my wife to drive me everywhere,” he says.

A year after the accident Mark was assessed at the driver assessment rehabilitation program (DARP) at Parkwood Institute to see if he was physically and cognitively able to drive. “At DARP we serve people for whom changes in their health - whether from trauma, illness or natural aging – may impact their ability to drive safely,” says occupational therapist Monique MacDonald.

DARP clients also include those with physical disabilities who require equipment to enable safe and accessible driving and those who need special instruction or vehicle adaptations to learn to drive.  As well, Parkwood Institute is one of only six centres authorized to conduct driving assessments for people who do not meet the peripheral vision requirements to drive in Ontario.

Mark Ideson’s assessment at DARP found his arms functioned well enough to drive a modified vehicle. “Helicopters are flown partly with hand controls, so learning to drive a vehicle with my hands came fairly easily to me,” says Mark.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to get back behind the wheel again and regain that feeling of independence,” Mark says. Today Mark proudly chauffeurs his wife and children where they need to go. His truck is outfitted with an hydraulic arm that swings his wheelchair out and drops it by the side of the truck, and a driver’s seat that turns at a 90 degree angle and lowers to the level of the wheelchair.

“Parkwood’s rehab and DARP changed my life.  It gave me back my independence,” says Mark.

Mark Ideson demonstrates the hand controls on his new vehicle for DARP occupational therapist Monique MacDonald.
(above: Mark Ideson demonstrates the hand controls on his new vehicle for DARP occupational therapist Monique MacDonald)

Last updated: Wed, 2014-12-24 15:52