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Adaptive Driving Program Helps Texas Health Arlington Memorial Patients Regain Mobility, Independence
06/28/2013

ARLINGTON, Texas — Karen Tesmer never thought she’d end up in the emergency room fighting for her life one year ago. The 51-year-old elementary school administrator started her day feeling fine, but a few hours later, Tesmer found herself suffering from a stroke caused by atrial fibrillation.

Karen Tesmer successfully completed the program and received a new license in January.
Karen Tesmer successfully completed the program and received a new license in January.
Tesmer outfitted her vehicle with an extended turn knob and blinker.
Tesmer outfitted her vehicle with an extended turn knob and blinker.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like my French fries, but I was in good health when it happened,” she said. “I don’t think I could’ve done anything differently to avoid my stroke, because it happened all of a sudden.”

According to the National Stroke Association, more than 2 million people are currently living with atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat. More than 70 percent of those patients will die from a stroke, and another one-third of Americans living with atrial fibrillation are undiagnosed, according to the National Stroke Association.

Tesmer considers herself one of the lucky ones. She survived her stroke, but it resulted in paralysis on the left side of her body.

“Last November, I began a driving rehabilitation program at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, and it definitely served as a great confidence builder,” Tesmer said. “I didn’t have to depend on anyone to drive me where I needed to go.”

Texas Health Arlington Memorial’s new Adaptive Driving Program is currently the only one in Tarrant County and one of two in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To pin-point the best approach for rehabilitation, the program thoroughly assesses a patient’s abilities with a clinical evaluation, a driving simulator and a behind-the-wheel test.

Instructed by a licensed therapist and driving rehabilitation specialist, the comprehensive driving program offers the option of undergoing behind-the-wheel evaluations in a customized van, four-door sedan, or using the patient’s personal vehicle.

“The program helps disabled individuals find the independence and freedom that driving provides,” said Dr. Carla Young, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial. “It also helps patients like Karen, suffering from neurologic, orthopedic or developmental conditions, regain their mobility and independence.

Tesmer’s paralysis limited her independence. “After my stroke, I had minimal use of my left arm,” she said.

According to Dr. Kevin Conner, a neurologist on the medical staff and Texas Health Arlington Memorial’s Stroke Center director, paralysis is common amongst stroke survivors.

“When a stroke damages a certain part of the brain, that area may no longer work as well as it did before the stroke – causing problems with walking, speaking, seeing or even feeling,” he said.

Conner said the goal of the program is to protect patients but also to ensure the safety of all North Texas residents.

“The program helps determine which patients can safely get behind the wheel without causing harm to themselves or others,” he said. “We have to remember they’re maneuvering a 2,500-pound missile – and that’s nothing to take lightly.”

Tesmer successfully completed the program and received a new license in January 2013. Since then, she’s outfitted her vehicle with an extended turn knob and blinker. Although Tesmer’s stroke limits her to working part-time as an assistant principal at a Grand Prairie elementary school, she’s grateful for the ability to drive again.

“I’d recommend the program to anyone, because it has helped improve my quality of life,” she said.

The adaptive driving program is self-pay and requires a referral from a physician. To learn more about this program and other occupational rehabilitation services, contact the occupational therapy department at 817-960-6465 or visit TexasHealth.org/OccupationalTherapy.

About Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital
Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital is a 369-bed acute-care, full-service medical center serving Arlington and the surrounding communities since 1958. The hospital’s services include comprehensive cardiac care, women’s services, orthopedics, an advanced imaging center and emergency services. Texas Health Arlington Memorial is an affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit TexasHealth.org/Arlington.

Doctors on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital.

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