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Make-A-Wish helps teen's driving dream come true
Lauren Smith was leading a pretty normal life in 2010 – until she woke up one morning and didn't feel 100 percent.
"She went to bed feeling a little crummy and woke up with these spots on her arms," said Lauren's dad, Martin.
In the following months, those spots, which turned out to be caused by a strain of Meningococcal Septicemia, took over Lauren's body. In the three years since, the disease took her arms and legs.
But for the 18-year old Seattle resident, who recently graduated from Garfield High School, there was one big thing she wouldn't let the disease take: her independence.
That's why, in 2012, Lauren made a wish to learn to drive again. On Saturday, June 1, it came true when when Make-A-Wish invited Lauren and her family to the Hyatt Regency Bellevue and presented her with a 2012 Cadillac SRX.The event included a makeover from Sephora and dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy.
To Lauren, driving means freedom, "something I really enjoyed doing," she said.
But Lauren's journey to the open highway wasn't an easy one. In fact, when she first decided she wanted to get behind the wheel, her parents were skeptical.
"We didn't know [if she'd be able to drive]," Martin said. "But we were hopeful."
After months of physical therapy – and lots of determination – Lauren started walking again in February 2011.
"Driving was just the natural next step," she said.
That's where the team at Absolute Mobility came in to play. The company, which specializes in wheelchair-accessible vans, power wheelchairs, mobility scooters and driving aids, made a number of modifications to Lauren's car so she can operate it independently. This included installing a post style steering device on her steering wheel so she can turn the wheel, a removable leg rest support for her to easily navigate her foot from the gas to brake pedal and a voice command for her turn signals and windshield wipers. The company also modified her driver’s door window switches so she can easily access them with her prosthetic hand.
Lauren also had to relearn to drive – with prosthetic legs and arms – via hours of classes with driving coach, Mark Russell. While it was tough-going at times, Russell said Lauren exceeded his expectations.
"Lauren is an amazing young woman," Russell said. "With an amazing mindset and skill set."
Tim Gifford, service manager for Absolute Mobility, feels the same way.
"Whenever I think about complaining about my day, I think about her," he said.
With the freedom of the open road in front of her, Lauren's already got a number of things she's excited to do, including driving to the University of Washington where she's taking German and chemistry.
She also wants to take her first big road trip.
"I think I want to go to Portland," Smith said.