Fran's story - MyGait FES

MyGait® helps World Champion rock climber Fran brown walk with confidence for the first time in 10 years

Fran Brown is a two-time World Para-Climbing Champion, part of the GB Adaptive Surfing team and is training for Iron distance triathlons. You certainly can’t say Fran has let anything get in the way of her passions.

Fran was a lighting engineer in London’s theatre district when she fell off a ladder ten years ago. She sustained a spinal cord injury resulting in her becoming what is known as a C4 Incomplete Tetraplegic. For her this means her arms don’t entirely work, her hands won’t open and close completely and she has weakening in her legs. “One minute I can be walking and the next my legs will just give way," says Fran. “I also get neurofatigue. This affects my balance and coordination. I therefore use a wheelchair most of the time. I can stand with crutches, and in the past I used calipers around the house, which was really tiring". Fran also has a condition known as drop foot, which is the inability to raise the foot due to a weakness in or paralysis of the dorsiflexor muscles in the leg and the foot.

Despite her injury Fran is extremely active. She always has been; if she isn’t out pursuing her love of rock climbing she is taking part in another sport like surfing or her latest challenge – triathlons. From an early age Fran has been the adventurous type taking part in all sorts of adrenalin-fuelled activities. Perhaps it is this mind-set that meant Fran just ‘got on with it’, as she puts it, and didn’t let her accident get in the way of what she enjoys doing.

Fran isn’t all about sport, she also exercises her mind. Much as she approaches her sporting activities, she doesn’t do things by halves. Fran works as a professional percussionist playing both tuned and Latin percussion. She plays the adapted drum kit and teaches others how to adapt their instruments. Furthermore, she is a volunteer journalist for the International Paralympic Committee and not to stop there she has recently graduated with a degree in Physiotherapy.

In a coincidental meeting while on a placement from St Georges University Medical School, Fran attended a talk by an Ottobock representative who spoke about the WalkOn Reaction. The WalkOn Reaction is a lightweight, low profile ankle support for people struggling to walk due to stroke, MS or brain injury.

Due to its unique anatomical design and quality carbon fibre prepreg material, the WalkOn Reaction allows users to walk naturally, whether on a level pavement or tackling steep terrain while hiking. It employs ground reaction forces to influence the knee and ankle joint. The energy return supports toe-off and heel strike, thus reducing compensatory movements such as hip hike. In addition to this, the WalkOn Reaction features smooth edges – so there is no risk of chafing, discomfort or pressure points, making it an ideal solution for active users.

“When I saw the WalkOn Reaction I knew that it was what I needed. I went straight to my clinician and asked if it was suitable for me. It was, and as soon as I put them on and took a few steps I knew this would help me in my day to day life. My feet were clearing the ground which meant I no longer had to rely on my wheelchair, something I was grateful for as the wheelchair isn’t always practical when I’m doing my residency and seeing patients,” recalls Fran.

Her journey to a more mobile life didn’t stop there though. Soon after she was then introduced to MyGait®, a functional electrical stimulation device. “I went for an assessment and was fitted by an Ottobock clinician,” says Fran. “It took minutes to fit and as soon as it was turned on I took my first few steps with my crutches. It felt completely different and it was eye opening as to the possibilities. I was amazed at how quickly and dramatically it improved my gait”.

Just a few minutes later, after getting used to walking with the MyGait, Fran took her first confident steps in ten years without her crutches. “I was shocked at the impact it had and how quickly it worked,” says Fran.

After training up her muscles Fran is able to wear her MyGait every day. Similar to doing reps at the gym, it takes time to build up the muscles to a point where it is possible to wear MyGait all day. “I find it really easy to use and comfortable to wear. Since using it I have now found loads of things I can do. I can do the housework without having to think including the vacuuming which had always cumbersome. I can confidently walk around with things in my hands as well as step back and move around freely without having to worry about falling over or stumbling, which is great for multitasking situations such as cooking,” says Fran.

MyGait has opened up so many more possibilities for Fran; she is able to go to friends’ houses which aren’t accessible to wheelchairs, like those with stairs or lack of space for a wheelchair to manoeuvre round. She can go meet friends wherever they suggest without having to make sure it is wheelchair accessible and has disabled toilets. It has also given her more access to gym equipment, and when at work she can concentrate on just that and not her walking.

Fran describes it as liberating, “It has given me flexibility and freedom. I don’t have to think when I am walking; especially when I am at home as it is flat and there aren’t any surprises. I also feel like I don’t have to rely on people anymore and I feel less of a burden on my friends. Previously they would have to go check out the toilet situation for me, wearing MyGait I don’t have to worry about whether there are disabled toilets. It is so much less stressful and I have freedom; freedom to go where I want to go without having to pre-plan. I can now get out to my favourite outdoor climbing spots without having my friends carry me over the terrain which my wheelchair isn’t able to get over, and while they always insisted it was never an inconvenience I now honestly feel like that is true”.

MyGait is based on the principle of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). A small switch is worn under the heel which sends a wireless signal to the stimulator worn on a cuff just below the knee. The stimulator can then activate the muscles responsible for lifting the foot. This results in an improved and more natural gait, making walking faster and more efficient and reducing the risk of falls.

A special feature of MyGait is the integrated 2nd channel. This makes it possible for an additional muscle group can be stimulated. Thus, for example, the gait pattern can be further improved with knee stimulation to give additional support when walking.

Fran is a formidable lady and truly extraordinary by any standard. Her accomplishments are remarkable and her attitude to overcome her life-changing accident is inspiring. Just recently Fran took up cycling with her WalkOns and in her true fashion it’s not just for a leisurely jaunt, and has plans to try out for the British cycling team. MyGait has given Fran even more freedom to pursue the activities she loves and with her can-do outlook on life will no doubt embark on even more exciting challenges.

To view Fran in action and to hear her tell her story just watch the video above.

MyGait: Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) with MyGait® lifts the foot at just the right time in the walking, or gait cycle. Walking becomes faster and more efficient. With MyGait®, you can be in the moment rather than concentrating on every step.

MyGait® can improve your gait. It often helps you to walk faster and for longer distances.

As you don’t need to concentrate on your walking and constantly keep an eye on the ground, your mind is free for other thoughts, conversations and experiences. In addition, the muscles of the lower legs are exercised with FES, and strong muscles make walking even easier.