Tag Archives: FES bike

Voices of Hope: Technology Supports Hobbies And Adventures After Injury

Susan “Suz” Welch had been living with severe arthritis for years when falls related to the condition caused her spinal cord to collapse in 2014. She is paralyzed from the waist down and continues to pursue rehabilitation to improve her mobility and maintain her independence. Suz explains how wheelchair photography and adaptive technology have had an impact on her life.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

Suz continues to grow her love of photography through technology


I am 75. I have been involved with technology on some level since I was a kid. My father was a body and fender professional and I spent a lot of time at his auto shop. When I was 11 or 12 I used a table saw at school and cut off my finger and damaged three others–that’s when I got my first experience with therapy, to get my fingers working again. I learned to type with three fingers and became just as fast as anyone else in the class on an old manual typewriter.

As an adult, I was the executive director of a local not-for-profit organization for many years. I directed a year-round camp facility in which we did darkroom photography and, later, digital photography. I also participated in a technology workshop in which I helped to teach young people and their parents how to use tablets and smartphones to learn more about the outdoors–for example: using Audubon identification books on tablets to identify birds in the wild.

After I retired in 2005, I directed three different camps where we used digital cameras and small printers. I found that some kids with behavioral challenges could focus better after learning how to use cameras. We saw great results.

Since I had been active for many years as a camper, counselor and camp director, it was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic. Until my last fall, I was always able to get up and continue doing things. But the last fall crushed my spine. I was not willing to accept it at all. I thought I would get better and be able to walk again. I bet I asked four or five times every day why I could not do what I used to do. It was explained to me over and over again. I think I still have problems accepting my condition.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic.”

2010 was my last summer moderating camps. I pursued surgery to build a curve in my spine to enable my back to support me the way it should. Additional procedures helped to reinforce my spine so it could not bend and crush my spinal cord. Before the surgery, I could not stand, walk or sit for longer than 5 minutes because the pain was too severe. Immediately following surgery, I had no feeling from my chest through my legs. I was in an acute rehab program for six weeks in 2014, and that’s when I learned how to operate a power chair.

After I was released from the acute rehab unit, I went to a therapist, Kimbra Korte in Des Moines, Iowa. Kimbra challenged me every time I was there. I went two times a week, because everyone told me there was no way to know what I might get back. I started learning to do things again, but it was very slow progress.

I rode an FES bike in Des Moines and then I got an FES bike for my home. I ride two days a week, then walk with a walker one day, then do two more days on the bike and increase the resistance every five sessions. My walk is not like everyone else’s: I have to look at my feet when I walk, because I cannot tell where they are.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very slow progress” when Suz first entered rehab

In the beginning, I had to use a lift to get from my bed to my chair. Now, I can get to the side of the bed, use a belt and a walker and transfer to my chair. I reverse it in the evening. I can walk from one wall in our living room to a regular chair 15 feet away. I can walk about 60 feet outside, too.

My caregiver, Carolyn, was my camp nurse from 1998 to 2010. She and her four kids moved in with me. She is now retired.

Since I have been using the power chair, wheelchair photography has been a great outlet for me. I treat my chair like a four-wheeler and go to the pasture and down a dirt road every day. I have been taking pictures all my life, and I have always done photography with a darkroom. Since my injury, I had to give up the darkroom since it was in the basement. I donated my equipment to a local school and hunted all over for some sort of adaptive tech for my chair since a tripod or monopod would not work.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“I am so happy with the equipment that it is my pleasure to share my story.”

BlueSky Designs is a company that creates multiple adaptive devices that can be attached to a wheelchair:  someone who uses a wheelchair, like me, can add a tray, computer, laptop, phone or camera plate to their chair. I was able to get an adapted camera component for my chair from BlueSky Designs. The component attaches to my chair so I can take photographs from my chair with the camera directly in front of me.

When I went to a local camera shop, all of the employees and the owner came out to see my device. They were so excited–they had been trying to help other people with wheelchairs to adapt their cameras and this was a brand new solution.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

An adaptive device allows Suz to take pictures from her chair

I will continue to rely on fundraising with HelpHOPELive to help me cover the cost of adaptive equipment. My fundraising has mostly happened with just a few close friends, some of whom were campers of mine during 1961 and ’62. I am so happy with the equipment I have benefited from that it is my pleasure to share my story. I entered three pictures into a local contest [pictures below], and one of them is now hanging in the local gallery for six weeks! I am making photo cards that I hope to sell at local farmer’s markets.

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I would love to be able to drive again and have my four-wheeler adapted so I can use it. I have gotten stuck in the mud with my chair three or four times (I am currently forbidden from going in any mud!). I live in the country, and I donated 16 acres of my land to Camp Hantesa so they could continue a riding program I had started in the 70s. Now they lease the horses so I can still use the 16 acres, and Ledges State Park is in my backyard, so I get to see birds, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks and more. There are a lot of places I’d like to visit with the four-wheeler.


Suz fundraises with HelpHOPELive for out-of-pocket expenses including caregiver costs and rehabilitation to improve leg circulation and muscle strength. Would additional access to mobility technology improve your daily life? Start a fundraising campaign with our nonprofit at helphopelive.org.

Motivated By Love, One Family Launched The ‘Project’ Of A Lifetime

Paul Pickard founded Project Walk Atlanta in 2011 with his wife, Jeannie, and his son, Chris, who was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 18 years old. We asked Paul about spinal cord injury rehabilitation and his motivation for opening Project Walk Atlanta.

Project Walk Atlanta staff


What did you know about Project Walk when you founded Project Walk Atlanta?


Other than knowing that God placed it on our heart to build the facility in Atlanta, I really didn’t know that much about the PW network. When we founded our center, there was no research or due diligence before building. As crazy as it sounds, in the middle of a recession, we built PWA solely on faith, without a business plan.

What I know today about the four Project Walk centers — located in Orlando, Kansas City, Dallas and Austin — is that they are all very passionate about helping people with spinal cord injuries. These centers opened because there was a serious need in their community and their lives. Each center is filled with love and compassion for its clients.


Can services like the ones offered at Project Walk Atlanta significantly improve quality of life for people who have spinal cord injuries?


All human bodies require movement and some level of exercise. At a bare minimum, people with spinal cord injuries learn how to get their body moving to connect with their paralyzed limbs. Daily quality of life factors such as eating, scratching an itch, brushing teeth, etc. are addressed with our services by training the neuromuscular system.

Project Walk Sarah


What are some examples of modern spinal cord injury therapy equipment or technology used at Project Walk Atlanta?


We are fortunate to carry the entire suite of Restorative Therapy Functional Electrical Stimulation machines: RT600, RT300 and RT200. FES coordinates neuromuscular re- education by firing respective muscles in the same order as when a person moves. Some other exciting pieces of equipment:

-The locomotor treadmill is an innovative intervention that helps individuals with gait impairments. The technique is an activity-based therapy that works to retrain the spinal cord to “remember” the pattern of walking again.

Vibration platform training excites additional muscle fibers to become engaged, improves bone density, and increases circulation and aerobic capacity.

Tissue regenerative technology uses shock wave energy for tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue around the injury point and activating the autonomic nervous system.

The Bioness H200 is electrical stimulation prosthetic for the hands.

Project Walk Nick


Which innovations or technological advances are you most excited about for the future?


Dr. Scott Bertrand’s core development and training devices are promising. Currently in use at his office in Georgia, this device uses rotational mechanics of an isolated muscle contraction on each side of your core to fully engage activity. Other devices that are promising involve body weight-supported gait training which measures speed, stride length, stride width, tempo and weight-bearing percentage to drive performance improvements. And, finally, a new device being made for clinical use is exciting: an EMG portable unit that will measure exact muscle activity, providing the user and the clinician the ability to discern appropriate techniques leading to neuromuscular activity below the level of injury for our clients.


Did your son’s injury influence your outlook on spinal cord damage, therapy, or life in general?


I find myself not complaining as much anymore because I really, really hate this injury with a passion. In a flash of a second, your entire life changes forever. It doesn’t creep up on you; it just annihilates your world.

Chris Pickard Jeanie Pickard Paul Pickard Project Walk Atlanta Georgia


Does Chris continue to make progress with his own rehabilitation journey?


Rehabilitation takes form in several ways. It is not only physical; it is also spiritual and mental. Chris has made great strides in all three.


What keeps your family moving forward?


FAITH, without a doubt. The strength that our faith in Jesus Christ has given us is the glue that has held us together. There were many nights spent crying, asking God for answers and even getting angry with God. We will never understand nor should we expect to. Without faith and prayer, this injury could become overwhelming at times.


Does your family’s personal experience give you unique insights to share with other families who come to Project Walk Atlanta?


You learn very quickly how to adapt to this injury. At Project Walk Atlanta, every client becomes part of a bigger family that shares and loves one another. We are there to pray with you or cry — whichever!

Project Walk Joe


Is cost a significant barrier to SCI rehabilitation for some families?


Cost is the biggest barrier. If you have a premium insurance policy, you might get reimbursed 75%. Otherwise, you have to rely on fundraising. Although we try to provide scholarships when we can, it is very important that we teach our clients how to fundraise. The average person has never asked for money or knows how. Although there are many online fundraising sites, I always point them to HelpHOPELive where they will get the best guidance to raise funds.


Based on your son Chris’s fundraising efforts with HelpHOPELive, what are some of the costs that SCI-affected families can expect to face 3 to 5 years after injury?


Medical supplies, housing adaptation, standing frames, FES bikes and vehicle modification are a few expenses that can be anticipated


What piece(s) of advice would you offer to someone who was recently injured? What would you tell his or her family?


The advice that I would give someone is to begin fundraising early. This injury is so devastating on families financially that most families can end up in bankruptcy. Everything is so expensive and most insurance will not pay for long-term therapy. Medicaid pays for catheters but won’t pay for suppositories. Go figure!


The PWA website notes: “Everyone needs hope. Without hope you can’t recover.” Do you think that hope or a positive attitude can alter the rehabilitation process?


Absolutely. Without hope, what do you have? Every person affected by spinal cord injury has or once had hope that he or she would recover. Unfortunately, most acute hospitals’ doctors knock the wind from your sail by making statements like “you will not ever walk again” or “get used to the wheelchair.” At the end of the day, only God knows what anyone’s outcome really is.

I know many people that were told they would never walk and now they are beginning to take their first steps, crawl or even walk again. It is that hope and the belief in themselves that helped them get to that point.

Project Walk equipment


Connect with Project Walk Atlanta on Facebook to learn more about spinal cord injury rehabilitation. You can follow Chris Pickard’s journey on his Campaign Page.