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Medical student inspired by fellow doctor with 'energising' WHILL

21st June, 2021

Medical student Sarah Wright is ‘feeling more energised and positive’ thanks to inspiration from a fellow doctor with the same condition and WHILL Model C.

Sarah is nearing the end of her five-year degree and aiming to become a junior doctor. She has always had a keen interest in medicine especially after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) aged 12. EDS is a condition that causes hypermobile joints, which dislocate easily, and other conditions such as mobility difficulties.

As Sarah’s hours at the hospital increased, her walking difficulties were getting too much to cope with – four-hour ward rounds across a large, old hospital left her in pain. Sarah enlisted her dad for help who discovered the WHILL Model C and an inspirational owner of this powerchair, Dr Hannah Barham-Brown.

They came across online articles and videos of Hannah and how her WHILL ensures she can work as a GP and support charities and equality campaigns whilst having EDS.

“Thank goodness we found Hannah and her WHILL – it looked ideal for me,” Sarah said. “It was reassuring to see the powerchair being used successfully in the same environments I work in. My friend messaged Hannah for me – she was so helpful. She gave us a detailed lowdown on her WHILL and how it helps on a day-to-day basis, both in and out of work. I was a bit nervous about going for it however Hannah reassured me, she was fantastic – really positive and inspiring, especially as there doesn’t seem to be many doctors with a disability like us.”

Sarah’s dad made contact with TGA and Harry, a TGA product assessor, assisted on a test drive to ensure the chair was right for her. “Harry was great, so knowledgeable and keen to help my dad and I,” she said. “He spent time with me trying the WHILL on different surfaces and so I could get used to driving it. He gave me a really useful tip: don’t look down when driving, always look up – kind of point and shoot! The chair is responsive so it’s a bit like watching where you are going when you walk, your legs instinctively know where to go. The fact that you could choose your own colour was really appealing – as the chair looks space age, I thought maybe all black so more Darth Vader or white like a Stormtrooper. In the end I went for ‘spaceship’ grey.”

Sarah has now owned her WHILL for six weeks and it is making a real difference. “It is so helpful with my practice, especially on ward rounds,” she says. “Long shifts of walking were really taking their toll on me. I was at the stage of trying to find a chair and sit down wherever I could to relieve my pain. I was exhausted and sore after every shift whereas now I can take my seat with me. I am far less fatigued and more engaged with my patients plus definitely feel more part of the team. I find my WHILL easy to navigate around corridors and in and out of lifts; not having to reverse in is a big plus. I’ve been surprised with how well my WHILL fits in at the hospital as it doesn’t take up much space.

“All my patients have responded well to the WHILL, most do not even comment as it is inconspicuous,” she adds. “As well as TGA, my university and Ninewells have been so supportive of me and my new wheelchair. The hospital have even given me a room to store it in if I decide not to take it home in the car. If I do decide to take it home, it’s lightweight so quick to deconstruct plus I have the strength to put the three pieces in the boot. As it is compact, I feel more comfortable in it as it only seems to take up as much room as a standing person; I’m not getting in the way.

“Overall, my WHILL makes me more energised and I feel really positive,” Sarah concludes. “I’m not so fatigued which means I can do my job better and have more fun outside of work – with a better work-life balance. I will continue to push myself, sometimes too far, but I believe I can make a difference, now inspired by Dr Hannah Barham-Brown.”