Driving rehab: THS students modify Smart car to help patients

 In In the News

Temple High School students sent off a specially modified Smart car to teach rehabilitating patients how to drive again.

Everest Rehabilitation Hospitals asked the school’s automotive program to help adapt a car to serve its patient care needs. Everest is a chain of rehab facilities that is opening a new hospital at 23621 SE H.K. Dodgen Loop in Temple this summer.

Everest representative Michael Hutka said the new car will be used for in-patient rehab.

“It will most importantly help our patients transition back to the community, where driving’s important to them,” Hutka said.

Career and technical education teacher Brad Hamrick said the students involved in modifying the car were given an unusual request: Remove all the toxic fluids from the vehicle, but leave it able to roll, brake and steer.

“They needed all the fluids and all the mechanical systems pulled out of the car so they could have it inside a hospital,” Hamrick said. “So we took all the air conditioning system, engine, transmission, all the drive train, anything that had liquids that could potentially leak inside the place.”

Keeping the car’s moving parts moving without hydraulics required a certain amount of creativity.

“In order to take the transmission and the axles out, you have to steel bolt everything together, rigid, so the wheels won’t fall off,” Hamrick said. “So we had to mock up a few things — do a little fabrication.”

Everest CFO Omar Jenkins said a Smart car is particularly useful in a rehab setting.

“We didn’t want to have a larger vehicle that would take up a lot of space,” Jenkins said. “Knowing there’s limited functionality for what we intend to use it for, having a car this size best suits our needs.”

Everest needed the modifications on the vehicle in order to give patients a more realistic experience in re-learning how to get in and out of a car and operate it.

“Usually you see a lot rehab-focused cars or simulation devices that are specific to one thing, whether it’s sitting down and a driving simulation, working the pedals, working the steering wheel,” Jenkins said. “What we wanted to do was, basically give our patients a real-life experience, where you get in the car, get out of the car — something as simple as adjusting the mirror or putting groceries in the back.”

Jenkins said the car will be used for patients recovering from a variety of injuries, including strokes, traumatic brain injuries, joint replacements and amputations.

This project just took the auto tech students a couple of weeks.

“We had around 130 students working on it every day,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick said the project was very educational for the students, and the school may accept similar work in the future.

“They got a lot of experience on how all the systems work, how they’re put together,” he said. “As far as getting to disassemble almost an entire car, they got a lot of knowledge.”