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Walk with MeChris Hartlove

Walk with Me (continued)

Over the next two decades, I wore out three or four scooters and as many minivans.

As my disease progressed, I found myself sitting more and walking less. It’s as though my middle age was stolen from me. The scooter was helpful but it’s not the same as walking on your own steam. Accessibility was always a challenge. I had to be very creative in opening doors on my own. At a conference in England, I had to swallow hard when we found that the building had only one elevator: a freight elevator. Riding up with cabbages and overripe tomatoes isn’t necessarily glamorous, but it got me to the presentation.

I was fortunate to draw on many resources as the disease slowly progressed. I relied on my family, my friends, my coworkers and my income. Resources come in a lot of different packages. After my husband died and my daughter was married, I moved to a condominium in Baltimore and began swimming to regain my strength. Then, my physical therapist suggested I try something called the NESS L300. He said it could help me walk again. I’m naturally optimistic and a bit of risk taker. When an opportunity presents itself, I give it a try.

The L300 consists of a heel sensor in my shoe, a control unit on a lanyard on my neck and a device on my knee that stimulates the nerves in my lower leg with a faint sting of electricity. Together they correct the foot-drop on my right side caused by MS.

I can walk now. I can’t ski, I can’t run, but I can greet people by looking them in the eye. A colleague accustomed to seeing me scooter-bound said, “I didn’t realize you are as tall as you are!”

I’ve never been one to go out and get the latest gadget but have always appreciated technology. My experience with this device has made me ever more hopeful for people. I always hope no else will be diagnosed with MS. Until then, this piece of technology has expanded my life. Used by 600 hospitals and clinics in the U.S., the L300 is helping thousands of people with MS, brain and spinal cord injuries and strokes, to walk—though it doesn’t help everyone. With its steep cost of $7,900 (which is not covered by my insurance plan), it’s not yet a public health, population-level solution, but remember: Computers once filled rooms and cost millions of dollars. Now they’re in our phones. This is translational research. With future advances, this kind of technology will surely help more people and those with other neurological diseases. The price will come down as well.

For the moment, I can tell you how this technology has changed my life. I realize now that there is nothing so wonderful as to stand on your own two feet and negotiate the world.

Sheila Fitzgerald, PhD ’88, MSN, is an associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences.

Comments

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  • Janice Bowie

    Hampton House 03/26/2012 12:00:48 PM

    What a wonderful and inspiring story. I've known Sheila for years and was moved last year when she was able to participate in the School's Convocation. We all cheered when she walked on the stage for the first time to sit among her colleagues. She truly rocks!

  • Marian Grant

    UMB SON 03/28/2012 02:17:11 PM

    I'm a former student of Sheila's and delighted to read about this for her and other people living with MS. Keep up the good work to all involved!

  • Onalenna Seitio-Kgokgwe

    Botswana 05/05/2012 02:57:16 PM

    I was a master of nursing student in JHU SON in 1995/1996. I met Sheila many times on her scooter along the corridors. I am just thrilled to read her story. What a miracle! My cousin is paraplegic from road traffic accident-I hope one day the device/technology will be a public health solution so that people like her can also benefit. All the best Sheila. May the Good Lord continue to bless you

  • Sylvia Williams

    Destin Florida 10/23/2012 12:38:29 PM

    Inspirational, encouraging and hopeful for anyone with health challenges, especially MS. Sheila, your story should make us all want to try harder and reach higher! Great job!

  • Kathleen Innes

    Maryland 03/12/2013 02:04:10 PM

    I met Sheila last month in the grocery store. She was kind enough to ask if I needed help with something because I am in a scooter also with MS. She explained the Bioness to us and I now have an appt to see Brian Murray next week. Thanks so much Sheila for sharing your story.

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Sheila Fitzgerald

Sheila Fitzgerald

Multiple sclerosis kept her in a scooter for 20 years, but Sheila Fitzgerald now walks on her own—with a little technological help.

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