One of the first patients to receive implanted muscle stimulation technology developed at the Cleveland FES (Functional Electrical Simulation) Center will represent the United States in sailing this weekend at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Jennifer French, a native of North Royalton, is among six U.S. athletes who begin racing Sept. 1 on the south coast of England. She has been a member of the U.S. Sailing Team since 2009 and has won two national championships in the sport. The upcoming competition marks her first Paralympics appearance.
The Paralympic Games, the ultimate international competition for world-class athletes with a disability, follow the Olympics in London and use many of the same venues. This year will be the biggest Paralympic Games ever, featuring 4,200 athletes from 160 countries who will compete in 20 sports.
While snowboarding in 1998, French suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left her a quadriplegic. The following year she received implants that allowed her to stand and, ultimately, walk down the aisle at her wedding. Since that time, she has continued to participate as a research volunteer for the FES Center. Two years ago, French participated in another clinical trial of an implant system that tripled the number of electrodes activating paralyzed muscles.
“The FES system has a great impact on my life in terms of independence,” French said. “I am able to get out of the wheelchair, move around and get into places where the wheelchair normally wouldn’t be able to go and be able to do things that I wouldn’t normally be able to do.”
Hunter Peckham, professor of biomedical engineering and Distinguished University Professor, remarked: “Jen’s accomplishment is remarkable, on and off the water. She is an unbelievable sailor and just a fantastic person, and we are so proud to have had some role in helping Jen to achieve her goal of sailing in the Paralympics.”
While Paralympics regulations prevent French from using her FES system in athletic competition, she uses the system during training to maintain strong muscles and a healthy lifestyle that may reduce life-threatening complications associated with spinal cord injury.
While French’s avocation is sailing, she is the executive director and co-founder of Neurotech Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving education about and access to neurotechnology for persons with impairments. Her full biography can be read by visiting paralympic.org/Athletes/Biographies.
The FES system was designed and developed at the Cleveland FES Center, a consortium of Case Western Reserve University, Veterans Administration and MetroHealth Medical Center.