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New ride . . . Robyn Stewart (left) with HVS Motors Dunedin sales representative Hayley Henderson, who Ms Stewart said was extremely helpful in arranging for the Nissan Leaf (pictured) to be converted to hand controls. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Robyn Stewart is looking forwards, not backwards – and her new car is a testament to that.

It is the first modified hand-controlled Nissan Leaf in New Zealand.

Ms Stewart was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996 and has no feeling in her body from the bust down.

She spent four years in a wheelchair, and doctors thought she would never walk again.

But she taught herself how to walk again using her parasympathetic nervous system.

“The brain is like a computer; if a programme fails, you find another way to make it work.

“I have to watch my feet to know that they have moved.”

And she has no plans of going back to the wheelchair.

“I didn’t get a wheelchair hoist put in my car. I don’t plan on going back to using one,” she said.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that affects movement, sensation and body functions.

It could be a debilitating illness, Ms Stewart said.

“It is like a dishwasher where the rats have got to the wires; sometimes it will go but it short circuits and gets out of sync.”

But she does not see herself as disabled.

“It enables me to be more aware of how my body works and what it needs – I won’t waste any energy on the fatalistic view.”

The key was to not lie down and accept it was going to take away from your life, she said.

To stave off the effects, she keeps fit and eats as organically as possible.

When her old car was at the end of its life she applied for, and received, a lottery grant to buy a Nissan Leaf at the start of this year.

She budgeted that money saved on petrol would eventually pay off the loan she needed to convert the car to hand controls.

The electric vehicle aligned with Ms Stewart’s belief and expertise in permaculture.

She lives in an earthbuild home, which is designed to have a negligible impact on the environment.

For example, under the floor there are 1000 beer bottles, which form pockets of trapped air that keep it insulated.

“I see it as a traditional way of living. It is all old knowledge that has passed down.”

Converting electric vehicles posed a few problems, she said.

As a Leaf has never been converted in New Zealand, there were a few difficulties getting the correct parts.

Ms Stewart was left without a vehicle for about three months while the conversion was done in Dunedin, but said it had been worth the wait.

“I would encourage anyone to consider purchasing an electric vehicle.”

She wanted to thank all of the people who had written supporting letters when she was applying for lottery grants, and supported her through the process.