A volunteer worker from Aylesford is back behind the wheel again after a devastating health diagnosis, thanks to the Kent Community Health NHS Trust South East DriveAbility service.
Christine Edwards, 65, has been living with Multiple Sclerosis for 34 years. She gave up driving for 10 years when she was first diagnosed because she was so scared by the thought of not being in control due to her condition.
It took a part-time job in 1989 and the opportunity to regain some of her independence to convince her to start driving again.
Christine said: “My condition had become more manageable and I was so thrilled to be able to take on a part-time job. It was less than a mile away, but because of the MS it was too far too walk so I knew I would have to drive.
“I was absolutely petrified to get back in the driving seat in case I caused an accident. I suffer with a lot of fatigue as part of my condition so it was the only journey I could manage, but it was worth the terror to maintain some independence.”
Christine had to take another break from driving in 2010 after undergoing a series of operations. The muscles around her right eye were deteriorating and she had trouble lifting her eyelid. This further knock to her confidence happened at the same time as her husband Gerry changed their car and Christine thought she would never drive again.
It wasn’t until she started volunteering with the South East DriveAbility service last year that Christine was finally able to embrace the idea of driving again, when a member of the team suggested she had a driveability assessment.
She said: “My husband used to drop me off at the clinic and I used to make excuses as to why he was always driving me there. They quickly sussed me out and could tell I wasn’t driving because I was nervous. They gently offered me an assessment and I truly haven’t looked back since.”
Christine was taken through a series of tests to check her sight, mobility and safety before being practically assessed in a specially adapted vehicle. She passed these with flying colours, which gave her the confidence to take on the practical assessment.
After taking to a specially marked course, the assessor recommended Christine drive an automatic vehicle with power steering as she has limited mobility and strength down the left side of her body. A few weeks later she had a second in-car assessment to see how she was getting on and if she needed any more adjustments.
“My independence is so important to me and thanks to the DriveAbility team I have that back now. It’s a service that changes people’s lives. If you can get safely behind the wheel of a car, you look no different to an able-bodied person. You are in control,” said Christine.
“Now instead of telling myself I can’t do it, I tell myself I can. So far I have even braved driving into Maidstone town centre. My next goal is to drive on the motorway.”
The South East DriveAbility centre, based in Maidstone, is one of 16 centres in the UK providing assessment and advice on driving, car adaption and car choice for disabled, frail and elderly drivers and patients with dementia. They have a range of adaption equipment available, such as steering wheel and pedal aids and high technology driving controls. There are also two specially adapted wheelchair accessible vehicles.
Anuraj Varshney, Consultant Practitioner and Centre Manager said: “The beauty of our service is that it is empowering. For many patients not being able to safely drive makes them feel very isolated and can contribute to a downward spiral in their health and wellbeing.
“We are able to give people with disabilities and restrictive medical conditions their freedom and independence back. We are passionate about keeping people safely on the roads and involved in their community.”
You can self-refer or ask your GP to refer you. There is a charge for a full assessment, payable upon application. Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01622 606900 for more information.