Christmas has come early for wheelchair-using Limavady student Jennifer Smyth as she strives towards her goal of walking again.
Following a recent golf fundraising event, Landmarc Support Services (Landmarc) has raised an incredible £60,000 to purchase a robotic exoskeleton from specialist company ReWalk Robotics (ReWalk) – a life changing piece of equipment which will enable Jennifer to regain her independence.
Jennifer is in her second year of a product design degree at Birmingham City University (BCU) but grew up in Egligton, where at 16, she was a promising gymnast until a training accident left her, tragically, quadriplegic.
Since then, she has defied medical odds and through her community’s fundraising efforts, known as Jennifer’s Journey, has gone on to excel in her physical recovery and her academic achievements.
The ReWalk 6.0 has now been supplied to Jennifer in a small ceremony where Landmarc staff were able to see her walk, under the guidance of her ReWalk mentor, Stephen Ruffle, for the first time in over four years.
Jennifer, who would like to pursue a career designing mobility products for other people affected by injury, explains how the ReWalk will make such a difference to her life.
“Although doctors told me I would never be able to walk again, I have always been determined to get on with my life. The ReWalk is truly life changing and is the only device on the market that is able to climb, meaning that at some point, I’ll be able to walk upstairs and on uneven surfaces, unaided.
“I would have never been able to afford to buy my own suit and words can’t express how grateful I am to the Landmarc staff and all of their friends for purchasing the equipment for me.
“I also have the highest classification of spinal cord injury of anyone who has been able to use the ReWalk.
“I absolutely love it. It’s hard work at first and I’m going to need to have quite a few training sessions but to be able to stand again and be at the same height as everyone else around me is incredible.”
Kevin Kneeshaw, Regional Operations manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland at Landmarc, along with Finance director, Lee Martin and ReWalk Robotics Sales manager, Stephen Ruffle, handed over the ReWalk to Jennifer at her halls of residence.
Kevin said: “Jennifer’s Journey is a cause very close to the hearts of the staff at Landmarc. Jennifer’s father used to work for our Scotland and Northern Ireland region until he sadly passed away very unexpectedly. He undertook lots of fundraising to help fund the treatment needed to help Jennifer with her recovery, so in his memory, the local team has been determined to take on the mantle to do whatever possible to help aid Jennifer’s rehabilitation. To be able to see her standing and walking again is truly inspirational.”
Jennifer will now go on to receive one-to-one training from the ReWalk team and its training partner, NPP Neurogroup, to help her use the suit independently. ReWalk is also training Jennifer’s physiotherapist, Kim Gregg, on how to use the new equipment, so that she has continued support when she’s at home in Egligton.
Landmarc is the provider of support services and estate management to the National Ministry of Defence training estate. The company employs 1,200 people across 120 sites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including Swynnerton Training Camp near Stone in Staffordshire.