For 39 years, Rachael Bridges was known as the clumsy one by those around her. She had a habit of dropping plates and falling over easily, which soon became part of a running joke. It was more serious than that, though. She knew that when she started losing balance walking down the stairs of her family home.
In 2017, Rachael was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), which means she is at risk of dislocation and a sudden loss of balance. As she was able-bodied for 39 years, she found the diagnosis hard to take and was in denial for over a year.
“I was literally reliant on somebody to help me,” she said. “I can’t even explain how that feels. You go through a whole circle of emotions [thinking] they’ve got it wrong; it’s not possible. I tell myself you’re not a lesser person, less of a mum, less of a wife, less of a friend. All of those things, that’s how it affects you.”
Initially, Rachael didn’t want to be seen in a wheelchair because she was worried people would talk to her differently – and she certainly didn’t want people making a fuss of her. Instead, she opted for crutches.
“We went on holiday to Disneyland Paris and when we got there I walked the whole time on my crutches and it was horrendous,” she said.
It was a moment that particularly came as a blow as she had always enjoyed family caravan holidays. On crutches, those precious moments away with the family weren’t possible. The WHILL Model C changed that.
“When I first saw the WHILL, I said, ‘Ah look, that looks good!’ The relief when I was whizzing around was lovely,” she said. “I flew around it and I didn’t want to get off.”
“With the WHILL it means my family don’t have to do anything without me. I went to a museum with my son – before I couldn’t do that. My husband runs his own business so it’s nice for us both to go away. I didn’t go anywhere on crutches. Just the thought of it was exhausting.”
The WHILL has also enabled Rachael to meet with friends, something she stopped doing after her diagnosis as she would have to miss work the following day to recover. Because she’s at risk of dislocation easily, the WHILL helps her keep careful as she doesn’t have to move unnecessarily.
“The other thing is that my arms are in a really nice position,” she adds. “With mobility scooters my arms are more upright and my shoulders slip. With the WHILL you’ve got that little controller that does everything. It’s comfortable, you can do everything and you can turn on the spot. Simple things like if someone behind you says ‘Hey, Rach! Look at this’ you can look as if you were standing – that’s amazing.”
“I don’t have to say ‘no’ to anything now,” she concludes. “In fact, at Centre Parks, I went on my WHILL into the swimming pool area. I wasn’t sure if there were any seats there and you could imagine my family’s fear of me walking around on a slippery surface. I watched my daughter and then turned around to see my son come down the inflatable slide on the water. I could never have done on my crutches, but everyone around me can now relax.”
“Having the WHILL, it looks cool and my children love it. The fact is, you’re independent.”