Getting back in the driver’s seat: June is brain injury awareness month

Jun. 19, 2012

The driver assessment rehabilitation program (DARP) at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Hospital is helping people get back behind the wheel who have lost their drivers’ license because of changes in their health from trauma, illness or natural aging.

People like Mike Munro, 39, who needs to drive to tend his family’s 600 acre dairy farm and raise his family. In 2009 Mike was demolishing an old farmhouse when a section of the chimney hurtled towards him. Rushing to get clear of the falling debris, he tripped over a bush and hit his back. Instantly he knew something was very wrong. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

Or like Dale Smith who sustained a severe brain injury when a speeding car driven by a drunk driver rear-ended his vehicle in 2008. Dale endured months in hospital, multiple brain surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and the loss of his driver’s license.

Mike and Dale regained their independence by learning to drive modified vehicles. Through the DARP program Mike learned to drive with hand controls, and Dale drives with a left foot gas pedal and a spinner knob on the steering wheel.

DARP is not just for people who have had a traumatic injury. Clients also include those with physical disabilities who require special equipment to enable safe and accessible driving, and those who need special instruction or vehicle adaptations to learn to drive. As well, DARP is one of only a handful of services in Ontario authorized to conduct driving assessments for people who do not meet driving peripheral vision requirements.

Today Mike has two vehicles specially adapted to his driving needs: a pickup truck with a crane that swings out and drops his wheelchair beside him, and a minivan. He recently drove his family to Florida and back, and regularly drives all over Ontario fishing and curling and taking his two boys to hockey and baseball games.

After his accident Dale, 56, retired as the manager of research and development at a large London manufacturing business and is reinventing his life spending winters in Arizona, volunteering, and speaking to teenagers taking drivers’ education classes about the toll unsafe driving practices take on lives.

Media are invited to a DARP open house where they can meet Mike and Dale and the driving instructors and even take a ride in a modified vehicle.

Date and time: June 20 - Time: 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Location: Parkwood Hospital, 801 Commissioners Road East: main lobby and parking lot 

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For more information contact:
Anne Kay, Communication & Public Affairs
Phone: 519 646-6100 ext. 42470
Pager:  519 649-9238

Get more information on the DARP program
Get more information on brain injuries

Backgrounder – Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s ABI Outreach Program
The ABI Outreach Program is one component of rehabilitation offered by Parkwood Hospital to people with an acquired brain injury.

Parkwood’s ABI Outreach Program provides support, consultation, training and education to residents of Southwestern Ontario over the age of 16 who have an acquired brain injury (ABI), and their families, caregivers and service providers such as long-term care facilities or community agencies.

These services are time-limited, goal-oriented and, in the interest of reintegrating and maintaining individuals with an ABI in their own community, the program partners with and complements existing local services.

In addition, time-limited and goal-focused direct services are also provided to people with an ABI in the absence of informal and formal support systems.  Services are offered throughout the 10 counties of Southwestern Ontario: Essex, Lambton, Middlesex, Elgin, Kent, Oxford, Huron, Perth, Bruce and Grey.

The program is comprised of a transdisciplinary team of rehabilitation professionals knowledgeable in the neurocognitive and neurobehavioural consequences of an ABI. Team members have extensive experience in functional brain injury rehabilitation and education in both institutional and community settings.

Other components of St. Joseph’s acquired brain injury services: Neurobehavioural Rehabilitation Centre, ABI inpatient unit, ABI outpatient services, ABI outreach program and the Neurotrauma Rehab/Driving Assessment and Rehab Program.

Brain Injury Facts

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is caused by traumatic and non-traumatic events that injure the brain.

  1. The leading causes of brain injury are: falls, motor vehicle accidents, being struck by or striking a hard object, assaults or violence, blasts or explosions
  2. Groups with the highest risk factors for traumatic brain injury include:
       - Males - about 1.5 times as likely as females to sustain a brain injury
       - Young children or teenagers - especially infants to 4-year-olds and 15–19-year-olds
       - Certain military personnel - for example, paratroopers
  3. Acquired brain injury commonly leads to a change in neuron activity. This change affects one or more areas including cognition, speech-language communication, memory, attention and concentration, reasoning, abstract thinking, physical functions, psychosocial behavior, and information processing.
  4. In Canada:
       - approximately 50,000 people per year are hospitalized with brain injuries.
       - over 11,000 people die as a result of a traumatic brain injury (over 4,000 will die in Ontario alone)
  5. Brain Injury can vary from mild (concussion) to severe (deep coma). Depending on the severity of the injury, some may recover after a period of rest. Others will require a lifetime of support. Annually, over 6,000 Canadians become permanently disabled after a traumatic brain injury.

The Human Brain:

  • is about 2% of your body weight, approximately 14cm wide, 17cm long and 9cm high and is made up of approximately 75% water
  • generates more electrical impulses in one day than all of the worlds’ telephones put together

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