Paralympian Tells How Technology Changed Her Life

Jenifer French, a sailor who won a silver medal at this summer's London Paralympics, describes in a new book how cutting-edge medical technology from the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center allowed her to resume an active life after being paralyzed 14 years ago.

Jennifer French's "On My Feet Again: My Journey Out of the Wheelchair Using Neurotechnology" builds on a series of blogs she wrote in 2010 and 2011 while preparing for and undergoing surgery, and learning to use and live with a second-generation muscle-stimulation implant that enables her to stand and do rudimentary walking.

French was one of the first to receive the technology in 1999. A snowboarding accident left her a paraplegic, but she trained hard with the system and was able to walk down the aisle and stand through her wedding ceremony.

Functional Electrical Stimulation Center's implant uses electric impulses to stimulate muscles severed from control by spinal damage. The newer version has three times more electrodes than the first. This allows French to better target specific muscles or muscle groups, gaining better control while using less of her energy.

"She is a most fearless test pilot," said Hunter Peckham, who wrote the forward in French's new book. "She provides a huge service to us. She pushes and challenges us to improve the technology every step of the way." He and French are more than researcher and test pilot. He, too, is an avid sailor. "It's phenomenal sailing with her," he said. "You're sailing with a world-class sailor."

French was at the helm and teammate JP Creignou, who is blind, handled the lines as they took silver in the two-person keelboat competition – a 10-race series - at the Paralympics this September. The competition followed the Olympics. But, more than being a top skipper, "Her passion is to see this technology that has made such an impact on her life become available to all," Peckham said. "She'll pour herself into anything that will help us make this technology available more broadly. She'll explain what it does and how it changed her life to industry and to lay audiences at professional conferences focused on independence."

She has written and spoken to audiences around the country and is the executive director and founder of Neurotech Network, a nonprofit organization supporting education about, and access to, neurotechnology.; Source: Case Western Reserve University

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