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Christine Caron, who lost 3 limbs after dog bite, to resume driving

07/15/2015 07:53 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT
An Ottawa woman who lost both her legs and most of her left arm after having an extremely rare reaction to a dog bite could soon be back behind the wheel of her car.

Christine Caron is relearning how to drive with the help of a one-of-a-kind device built by the Ottawa Hospital's rehabilitation centre that allows her to control her car's steering wheel, pedals, headlights and windshield wipers.

"I'm going to cry, I'm so happy. I'm so excited," said Caron. 

"We're almost at the end and it's been a long time coming."

Spent month-and-a-half in coma

Caron, a mother-of-four, was playing tug-of-war with her pets on May 22, 2013, when her dog Buster, a Shih Tzu mix, nipped her hand.

The other dogs licked the wound afterwards, and while Caron thought nothing of it at the time, three days later she was rushed to hospital.

She would spend a month and a half in a coma, and as she told CBC Ottawa after she awoke, her legs had turned black and her arm "looked sort of mummified."

Caron's wound had become infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a common bacterium in a dog's saliva. Her body's reaction, however, was extremely rare, with only about 200 septic shock cases linked to the bacterium reported worldwide in the past 40 years, according to Health Canada.

Since emerging from her coma, Caron has had to rely on the help of others for previously simple tasks like going to the corner store.

That loss of freedom can be extremely hard on people recovering from serious illnesses or injuries, said Caron's occupational therapist, Lynn Hunt, who works with the hospital's driving rehabilitation service.

"Not driving, they tend to stay home," said Hunt. "They feel more isolated. They sometimes become depressed. So this is very important."

Special headrest, pedals

The hospital's rehabilitation centre built part of the contraption in tandem with Liftability, a local company that installs adaptive driving equipment.

To control the car, Caron uses her right hand to clutch a specially-adapted steering wheel.  She can insert her left upper arm into a sleeve that controls the car's gas and brake pedals.

Her headrest controls her signal lights, which are activated by Caron moving her head to her left or right. She can also turn on her windshield wipers by moving her head straight back.

Caron has a few more lessons with the device before she officially gets her driver's license back — and that day, she said, can't come soon enough.

 "I lost my independence, my self-confidence," said Caron. "This is getting my life back. This is freedom."

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