Ability Drive Technology Gives A Paralyzed Man Glimpse Of Freedom

The 64-year-old paralyzed man got a glimpse of what freedom could look like. It’s called the Ability Drive. It uses eye tracking technology.

In just the blink of an eye, a stroke completely paralyzed Tom Larsen.

But recently, the 64-year-old Norfolk man got a glimpse of what freedom could look like.

He was able to ‘drive’ a motorized wheelchair with just his eyes.

“You could see his smile thru his mask and in his eyes, he was so excited,” said Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals Lincoln Campus physical therapist Kristi Rocole.

“The nurses were smiling, other patients were smiling. Patients were saying, ‘look at Tom he’s driving by himself.'” Rocole said.

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It’s called the Ability Drive. It uses eye tracking technology.

“I knew that we had to get this here for him to try it,” Rocole said.

A stroke three years ago left Larsen totally paralyzed from his nose down.

His wife Jan said she always knew he was still there.

“I knew he was still thinking, He was able to blink his eyes,” Jan Larsen said.

She said he was able to communicate by blinking.

Later, use a computer with the eye tracking technology.

“Tom’s body may be paralyzed, but his brain is not,” Jan said.

Tom was the technology director at Wayne Public Schools.

Jan said he always had an interest in science and how things work.

So operating the devices comes easy.

“Man, I tell you if there is a way for Tom to use technology, he is going to use it,” Jan said.

But where Tom gets his inner strength goes much deeper than that.

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You see, Tom has been paralyzed before.

“When Tom was a freshman in high school he got Guillian-Barre and was totally paralyzed from his waist down,” Jan said.

Guillian-Barre is a rare disorder of the immune system.

Doctors told him he might not be able to walk again.

Determined, Jan said he would crawl up and down the stairs of his home.

By his senior year, he was not only walking but was on the cross country team.

“So he’s always been a doer, always a thinker.”

So what are Tom’s impressions of this new device?

“I’ve been able to get out of my room and move independently. This can mean freedom for me,” Tom said.

And he’s already thought of ways the system, called the Ability Drive can be improved.

“I think there is room to improve the control screen so it’s more easily viewed outside,” Tom said.

He also said it would help if the start up was quicker.

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Madonna was only able to get the Ability Drive on trial for a couple of days.

“There’s only one in a several state region that is shared between a lot of places because it is pretty rare right now,” said Rocole.

The price tag to purchase one with a motorized chair could be $40,000.

“Funding is definitely a barrier. But that is definitely a barrier we are going to try to break down so that Tom can have some independence and freedom again,” Rocole said.

Tom said even if he can afford the technology, it’s better to know what’s possible because there is always hope.

“Though all that he has gone through, and to this day he will still say God is good. And God still has a plan,” his wife said.

Originally published at KETV 7

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