Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Birthdays are such a milestone in our lives.  It seems they are always the perfect time to reflect on your life.

Where you've been.

Where you are.

And where you're going.  

It's easy to look back on the places that you've been.  The memories you've made along the way.  The people and places that have impacted your life, both positively and negatively.

It's also pretty easy to see where you are.

The hard part is where you're going.  I struggle with that.  The unknown.  I like answers and facts.  I like to know how things are going to happen and why.

The older I get, the more laid back I have become.  I don't get bent out of shape nearly as often as I used to (many of you can attest to this fact).  I hope this trend continues.

With this next year, it is my hope to not be so worried about where life is going and just enjoy the ride.  

And now it's off to celebrate the 12th anniversary of my 21st birthday.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Driving Video

This video was taken by my driving instructor, Marino.  Marino is with Freedom and Mobility in Marietta, Georgia.

We were traveling home from Knoxville on I-75 South traveling 70 MPH.

I am driving with Aevit electronic hand controls installed by Mobility Works of Chattanooga.

I was trying very hard not to laugh while he was videoing me.  ;-)

Enjoy the music.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Week of Fitting

The week of January 20th I felt like a princess!!


Marino Pedrino from Freedom & Mobility came up from Marietta to assist in the fitting of my electronic hand controls on my new mini van.  

Duane from the Marietta Mobility Works came up to assist with the placement of my electronic hand controls.  

I arrived Monday morning only to realize that it would be another week of hurry up and wait.....but the wait was almost over!!!

It seems this process has not been without it's fair share of issues and that Monday was no different.  I have a bracket underneath my wheelchair that locks into a docking system for my old lift and old van.    It is much easier than having to tie the wheelchair down every time we go somewhere.  

The new van had to have a docking system installed in the floor.  Well guess what?!?  We were unable to order the same docking system for the new van because the company sold out and they are no longer available!!  UGH!!  Oh well, what's one more hurtle when you have come this far?

They needed me out of my wheelchair for the placement of the bracket, so I took it upon myself to lounge on the couch in the waiting room with me feet up (you did read that part about me feeling like a princess, right?).

After the bracket was in place, it was back to my wheelchair and out to the shop.  I needed to get in the van so they could position the docking system and start mounting the hand controls.

And then they were done with me for the day.  But I was happy to go home because Marino bought me a HOMEMADE lasagna to have for dinner (reference the princess comment).  He's such a sweetheart!!
 (That's lots of wires.....
and lots of tools!!)


Marino came to the house to pick me up in the old van and drove me to Mobility Works.  To my surprise, Stacy from the Marietta store to was there to speed the installation process along.  This made me very happy!!

I got in the van to test out the docking system.  It worked, so there was more mounting of equipment to be done.

Marino and I headed out to pick something up for lunch and then came back to hurry up and wait some more.  I got in the van a couple more times to make sure everything was still going okay.

And oh my goodness, I finally got to drive my very own van that afternoon!!  It was just a quick trip out to make sure all the equipment was in the correct position for me.  I drove to my moms and she never even knew I was there.  She missed it!!

Back to Mobility Works and time to go home.  The guys would permanently secure the electronic hand controls and so I could hit the roads the next day.
(Electronic steering wheel)
(Electronic brake and gas lever)


Marino again came to the house to pick me up and off to Mobility Works we went.  As soon as we got there, we were able to take off in my new van!!  We drove from Ooltewah to Harrison and back to East Brainerd.

There was an issue with the ramp coming out of the van, so we left the guys at Mobility Works to it while Marino and I went to lunch.

After our bellies were full, we return to Mobility Works.  This time we had to wait an hour or so before we could go driving again.

This trip out, I hit the interstate and headed downtown.  Those of you that know me, know that I don't  know my way around downtown very well (even though I have lived in Chattanooga my entire life).  I think Marino discovered that as well before we made it back.  ;-)


Marino said I was doing great but he wanted to be sure I could manage long distances.  Knoxville and back seemed like the perfect day trip.  We went to Calhoun's on the River so Marino could check out Neyland Stadium.

It was terribly cold but I had to pose for a picture with the Tennessee River and Neyland Stadium behind me.

I must have done fabulous because once we were back to Mobility Works, Marino let me drive home solo!!

The first time I have been in a car by myself in was AMAZING!!!  Every princess should be able to come and go of her own freewill.  :-)

Thank you Marino!!!  Thank you Mobility Works!!!  Thank you Aevit!!!  I am one HAPPY girl!!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Different Way

The time came much sooner than I had originally anticipated, but doesn't always?

On May 23, 2013,  I had an issue with the driver's seat in my SUV.  Normally, it would come out of the car and lower to the ground so that I could transfer from my wheelchair into the car.  Something broke and it wouldn't come in and out of the car correctly.  It took almost three months for the part to come in and the seat to be fixed.  During this time I was unable to drive and had to be chauffeured around.

In a matter of three short months, I lost the necessary strength I needed to drive.  I no longer felt safe driving my car.  I was worried about someone slamming on their brakes in front of me and not being able to stop in time.

It was time for the next step, a big step, an expensive step, a step I never wanted to have to make.  I needed to transition to driving from my wheelchair with electronic hand a mini van.  (I swore years ago I would never drive a mini van.  Funny how you always eat your own words later in life.)

August 15, 2013 my father and I found ourselves at Mobility Works talking about my options.  I use the word 'options' very loosely.  There were about four models of mini vans to choose from and only one electronic hand control option.

We have learned as my disability has progressed, everything is a process.  We needed to know the proper steps to take and a general time line to getting me back on the road again.   It had already been three long months and I needed my independence back.

The first step was to have a driving evaluation so we would know the exact equipment I would need.  I wasted about six weeks trying to make appointments with two places that wouldn't work for me.  I first tried Shepard's Center in Atlanta, Georgia but they couldn't see me because my prescription wasn't written by a doctor practicing in Georgia (new policy).  I then tried Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.   Unfortunately, they didn't have the electronic hand controls I was going to require, but were able to point me in the direction of Freedom & Mobility in Marietta, Georgia.

October 7, 2013 Jeremy and I traveled to Marietta for my clinical driving evaluation.  I met with Beth Gibson, an occupational therapist.  We went through about an hour of background questions, mobility tests, driving knowledge, and reaction tests.  To my surprise, immediately after the evaluation, the student van was being set up by Marino Pedroni (driving trainer) for me to drive.

I never imagined I would get to test out the electronic hand controls that day.  Even though I was used to driving a large SUV, I was a little nervous about driving the full size Ford van (later nicknamed the Mother Ship by my husband).  I drove around the parking lot a couple of times with Marino in the front seat and Beth in the back seat.   I was doing so well that I got to drive just up the street to a larger parking lot.  After several laps around the second parking lot, they let me get on the roads.  That's right, they trusted me enough to go play in Atlanta traffic!!  All joking aside, Marino had an instructor brake on his side of the van and could also reach the steering wheel.

I ended up driving for about 30 minutes.  There was a mix of emotions running through me all at once.  After months of not driving, I was trilled to have that control back.  I was nervous because driving with electronic hand controls is an adjustment.  I was sad because this was my new normal.  For the longest, being behind the wheel of a car was always the one place where I felt like I was apart of the able-bodied population again.  But most of all, I was beyond grateful for the technology that exists in todays time for me to still be able to drive.   My new normal was going to allow me the freedom I had been missing for months.

Marino told me I would need hours of training.  It's hard to say exactly how many hours because everyone learns at a different pace.  Marino brought the Mother Ship to Chattanooga on October 14th and 15th for me to continue my training.  I drove us all over the place.  Routes I would take to school, to work and to friends and families houses.  I did so well that Marino thought I could take my test at the DMV.  Since I would be driving with electronic hand controls, I would need special endorsements on my driver's license.

I never thought 16 years after I passed my driving test the first time that I would be back to test with adaptive equipment.   You just never know where life will take you.  After a shaky pre car inspection....let's just say I wasn't sure where the hazard lights were and leave it at that, I passed my road test!!

The next step was picking out a van.  Unfortunately, Mobility Works didn't have exactly what I was looking for so we opted to buy a 2014 Toyota Sienna towards the end of October.  Mobility Works sent it to Braun in Winamac, Indiana for the conversion.  When it returned the first week in December, it had a Braun Xi conversion with an in floor ramp.

Mobility Works was really hoping to have me in my van by Christmas.  I was really hoping to be in my van by Christmas.  Sadly, things don't always go the way we want them to.  EMC (Electric Mobility Controls) had not yet written the installation manuals for the electronic hand controls on 2014 vehicles.   So my van had to go directly to EMC for the wiring and installation of the EMC product.  The general manager with Mobility Works personally came to my office to tell me my van would have to go to Augusta, Maine (needless to say, he knew I wasn't going to be happy about the news).

I was so frustrated!!  I was so close to being able to come and go on my own again.  And now there was another delay that would take weeks!!  UGH!!!  It was completely out of my control.  Mobility Works was doing everything possible to speed the process for me.  All I could do was hurry up and wait.  Have I mentioned that I am NOT a very patient person?

Once the van came back from EMC, it was still not 'ready' for me to drive.  There was a fitting process that had to happen with myself, Mobility Works and Freedom & Mobility.  EMC was not very helpful about giving us an estimated completion date on the van.  Instead, they informed us when it was completely done and ready to ship.  Thankfully, I had been in contract with Marino from Freedom & Mobility about wanting my fitting schedule the instant my van was in Chattanooga.

The stars finally aligned and on January 20th my smiling face was at Mobility Works.  I honestly thought this day would NEVER come.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Driving Timeline

I am FINALLY back on the road again!!!  The freedom of being able to come and go is one of the most important things in my life.  We all have busy schedules and being able to get yourself from point A to point B safely is huge.

There have been tons of questions about my driving with the progression of my disability.  Below is a timeline of how my driving has progressed.  

Age 15 

Even as a teenager, I was so excited about driving.  Just like today, back then, driving represented independence to me.  I was at the DMV the day I turned 15 to take my written test for my learner's permit. I passed and over the course of the next year I drove every chance I could get.  

At the time, my Dad had an old 1989 (something) four door, gold Cadillac.  This thing was a tank!! My friends called it the ghetto sled.  It was used in a bank robbery and had red ink stains all over the back seat from where the ink packs exploded all over the money.  I didn't care!!  It was a car and I was learning to drive.  

Age 16

The day I turned 16, I missed school so I could take my driving test.  Once again, I passed and complete independence was almost mine!  My parents had not found me a car yet so I drove an old 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme my Dad had.  It wasn't my dream car which was a Nissan 300 ZX but is was none the less a car.  

I wanted a five-speed and about two months after my 16 birthday, my Dad found a four door, five speed 1988 Honda Accord in my price range.  He took me to Middle Valley (about 35 minutes from our house) to pick it up.  

I had driven a five speed in a parking lot once before….it wasn't pretty.  I will never forget that first day in my new to me Honda.  My Dad told me he would follow me home.  It was time to sink or swim.  That was probably the longest ride home ever!  I remember sitting through three cycles on one red light because I could not keep the car from stalling.  I could see my Dad in the rearview mirror horse laughing at me.   It took a lot longer than 35 minutes but we finally made it home all in one piece.

Age 17

Once I had saved up a little money, I was ready to get something a little nicer than my Honda Accord.  I still couldn't afford my dream car (Nissan 300 ZX), but I did want a sports car.  I ended up getting a 2 door, automatic Mazda MX6.  I was only able to enjoy my new to me sports car for a short time.

My medical journey had began.  In a very short time, I was too weak to get in and out of the Mazda. My Dad found an old 1988 Ford Bronco II that I could drive.  It was much easier to get in and out of and turned out to be temporary because once off the steroids, I regained some of my strength.

Age 18

Surprise, surprise!!  Around my 18th birthday I got something even better than my dream car, I got a 1999 Mercedes SLK 230.  It wasn't the five speed I wanted but in was FABULOUS!!  I was completely off the steroids I had been prescribed and starting to regain a lot of my lost strength.

Age 19

As much as I LOVED my Mercedes, it was only a two seater car and couldn't haul much.  We located a used Nissan Xterra for me to use as a second vehicle.  It was great to have another car that would hold more people and stuff for road trips.  

Age 21

Some girls are intimidated by large cars....I'm not one of those girls!!  I always loved the look of the Chevrolet Suburbans......they were BIG!!  My dad had one and he didn't really like it, he's more of a Ford man.  When he finally decided to get something else he passed it along to me.  Let me tell you, that car went on for days and could haul lots of friends.  It was fabulous!!    

Age 23

As great as the Suburban was, I was starting to have some issues getting in it.  It was so tall that I would have to get my right foot on the running board and then up in the floor of the car.  In the beginning it was okay but as time went on, I needed to use my hands to lift my right leg into the car.  That caused me to balance myself on my left leg.  Getting out of the car was no problem because the car was so tall that my legs were already locked when my feet hit the ground.  I really hated to get rid of the Suburban but I didn't want to risk a fall trying to get in the car.
I must admit I love foreign cars.  And Nissan has always been a favorite of mine.  I ended up trading the Suburban in on a Nissan Pathfinder.  The Pathfinder worked much better for me.  The height was perfect.  It was 'butt height' for me.  All I had to do was slide right into it.  No more lifting my leg.  I could get in and out of it with no problems.

Age 24

I still loved driving my Mercedes but I was driving it less and less. That car was almost like a go cart. It was super easy to get in....all I had to do was fall over into it.  It was as close to the ground as you can get!!  The problem was getting out of it.  I just didn't have the quad strength to get out of it anymore.  I still wasn't completely ready to let go of my sports car days so we decide to get me a Lexus SC 430.  It was still a hard top convertible but it was a four seater and it was a little higher off the ground.  I was able to get out of it much better and it was just as fun to drive as the Mercedes had been.


By 2007, I was leaving the house less and less by myself.  My balance was really bad and I was afraid of falling while I was out.  I had put off the use of any assistive devices for as long as I could.  I needed a power wheelchair while out in the community.  I really didn't want a mini van, so we were in the market for a larger SUV that would hold a power wheelchair and a lift.

After many visits to multiple car lots, the only thing that would meet my needs was a Lexus GX 470.  We were able to fit a Bruno curb-sider lift and power wheelchair in the back that I could get in and out without any assistance.  I probably should have made this step months before I did, but I wasn't ready to use a power wheelchair.  

Age 29

I really waited too long before getting my next car.  My mobility had declined to the point I was using the power wheelchair everywhere I went.  I would even bring it in the house when I was at home.  I was walking less and less.  Getting to the back of the car to retrieve my wheelchair was almost impossible.  I needed a change and quick.  

I still didn't want a mini van so I search the internet high and low for any other option I could find.   I lucked upon a company called Freedom Sciences that had a product called ATRS.  Basically, it was a remote control system that allowed you to remotely drive your wheelchair from the driver side of the car to the rear entry and load it on a lift.  The bigger lift and wheelchair required a larger SUV.  Since I got rid of the Suburban years ago because I was having a hard time getting in it, I knew I would need help getting into this new SUV.  No worries, there is a really cool seat base for that.  The driver's seat is replaced with a base that will turn and come out of the car and lower to 18 inches off the ground.  I could transfer from my wheelchair to the driver's seat and remotely drive my wheelchair onto the lift in the back.  And that is how I came to be in a GMC Yukon XL (I told you liked big cars!).

Age 32

I loved my Yukon.  It allowed me to still feel as though I was a part of the able bodied community and all while having my wheelchair in the back.  Even thought the car had been adapted, I was still able to drive without any driving modifications.  All and all, it was fabulous...when it worked correctly.  Unfortunately with technology there are always issues.

The seat base broke on May 23, 2013.  By this time, Freedom Sciences had sold to Harmar and they were no longer offering the ATRS system.  It took three months for the seat to finally be fixed.  During this time, I was unable to drive at all and I lost the necessary strength I needed to safely drive.  

It was time.....I was out of options.  I had to have a mini van that I could drive from my wheelchair.  Suddenly when you are completely out of options, the one thing you never wanted becomes very appealing.  After not driving for three months, a mini van became the most fabulous car EVER!!

As of about three weeks ago, I drive from my wheelchair with electronic hand controls.

*****Some of the pictures above are pulled from the internet......I didn't have time to dig through all of my pictures.......I posted the ones I could find.*******


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Big News

Sometimes people see something in you that you don't even see in yourself.
Sometimes opportunities arise that you never dreamed of.

As most all of you know, I have recently transitioned to driving with electronic hand controls.  This journey has been in the making since August 2013.  I never expected to have to make this transition so soon.  It was not a transition that I was happy about making, but knew it was necessary for me to maintain my independence.

One of the greatest joys in life is the people you meet along the way.  The fabulous people I have met during this process have helped to soften the blow of this next step in my disability.

Freedom & Mobility and Mobility Works make a positive change in peoples lives everyday.  These two companies are able to give independence to individuals with disabilities.  From driving assessments to wheelchair lifts, from handicap accessible vans to driver training, these two companies made a profound impact on my life.

Jeromy at Mobility Works saw something in me that I didn't see in myself.   He saw that I have the ability to help others become more mobile.  He saw that I could personally relate to the customers of Mobility Works.  He saw that I could help better inform the residents of the Chattanooga area of their mobility options.    

Jeromy has offered me a position at Mobility Works.  He is willing to work with my crazy schedule (and my crazy self).  He is willing to guide me along the way because this is all new to me.

I love to help others.  In my mind, there is no problem that is unsolvable, no obstacle to big to over come.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  I am so excited about all the people I will meet.  But I am most excited about helping people with disabilities overcome their mobility issues.  I can't wait to see the smile on their face when they are more mobile and independent.

All the paperwork is done.  It's official.  I am proud to announce that I am the newest team member of Mobility Works of Chattanooga.  If you need help with your mobility needs or know someone who does, please tell them to call me!! 423-308-8267  If you know of a business in Chattanooga that has patients/clients that could benefit from Mobility Works, please let me know!!  I would love nothing more than to help you.  

Many thanks to Jeromy for seeing something in me and giving me this opportunity.  I cannot wait to start helping others with their mobility needs.  :-)