Jenna McKernan has discovered that powered wheelchairs can be ‘cool for younger people’ with the WHILL Model C.
Jenna lives with her husband, two young children and describes herself as ‘positive with a glass that’s always half full’. She was a primary school teacher for 17 years until a cancer diagnosis in 2016. Following a brain operation, Jenna became paralysed down her right-hand side and needed to be pushed in a wheelchair. Today, she continues with treatment and has worked hard to regain some walking ability with a frame. Nevertheless, Jenna needs a wheelchair most of the time and as she can’t self-propel, her situation was becoming ‘more and more frustrating for her and her family’.
A few years of being pushed in a wheelchair coupled with the restrictions of lockdown, Jenna decided it was time to regain her freedom. “With shielding coming to an end, this was the time for a new lease of life I thought,” she said. “It was when my husband was pushing me in the supermarket and I kept asking him to turn me around, it dawned on me it was time for change. He kept rolling his eyes, so I said ‘right’, I’m going to get my independence back.”
Jenna didn’t want a powered wheelchair as she had only ever seen ‘old fashioned designs’ so started looking for a mobility scooter. “I typed in ‘trendy mobility scooter’ and came across TGA. They had published a story about one of their customers who was a similar age to me, who had chosen their Minimo as it looked good. He was seen as ‘trendy’ by his kids, so I phoned TGA to arrange a home demonstration. Chelsea phoned me back in less than half an hour and they arranged for Harry, an Assessor, to come and visit me with a Minimo. He was so helpful and brought a WHILL with him just in case.
“I tried the Minimo safely in my back garden and really liked the look of it and how it drove,” she continues. “However, my husband and Harry felt I needed a bit more support, especially when turning. Even though I was sure a powerchair wasn’t for me, Harry suggested I tried the WHILL. Well, it was brilliant, I loved the way it moved and glided around – I could spin it on the spot. When Harry told me about the steering smartphone app and the fact you could change the coloured panels, I knew it was for me. The independence this WHILL could give me, like going to the woods on my own with the kids, got me buzzing. My neighbours came to our garden gate to watch, they too said it looked fantastic.
“That night I discussed the pros and cons with my husband and the following day we called Harry back. I had to be sure the WHILL was right for me especially as I have difficulty feeling and placing my right foot. I checked it was ok on the WHILL footplate and I felt steady, especially when getting in and out. The Minimo was great however the WHILL was much easier for me to sit down or transfer out. I love the way the armrests fold back as they allow me to sit closer to tables, especially at cafes.”
Now a few weeks into ownership, Jenna is enjoying life outdoors without feeling self-conscious. “I feel when using the WHILL people see more of me and less of the chair,” she says. “I thought I would need to build up my confidence to go out again on my own or with the kids, but I’m finding with the WHILL I already have the confidence. I see people looking positively at my WHILL like they have never seen anything like it before. I can go out with my wee son and daughter and do not worry about struggling around the shops. The big plus is that I am not being pushed and can have a conversation side-by-side with them or my husband. Before, talking was so hard and I’d keep missing what Chris was saying, it was quite infuriating.”
Jenna is keen to tell everyone about her WHILL and the difference it has made. “I’m a big fan of online forums, Facebook and Instagram as I like giving useful information to other people with disabilities,” she adds. “I know younger people struggle to find equipment they like the look of, so I am already sharing my experiences of my WHILL and how TGA have helped; their service has been exceptional. Even if I can make a difference to just one person’s life, this will make me happy. I enjoy taking lots of photos for memories and will continue to be doing this in my WHILL to show the difference it has made. I am also keen to share my cancer treatment experiences to help others and to support the Make 2nds Count charity.”
With Covid restrictions easing, Jenna is already benefiting from her WHILL when travelling further afield. Her first trip to a hotel to see friends proved the ideal test for her WHILL. “We had an accessible room however the corridors were so narrow – without the WHILL I’d have struggled to get around, especially when the maid’s laundry trolley was in the way,” she said. “I could zoom along the corridors and turn around in the lift without having to reverse – so easy. Another advantage was that the WHILL splits into three and fits into the boot of our car. We’ve now bought a roof box so have plenty of space to take my WHILL and suitcases on holiday in the future; we are already looking at accessible destinations.”
Overall, Jenna feels the WHILL has improved many aspects of her life. “I am a very positive person and always believe my glass is half full,” she concludes. “I live every day to the max as no one knows what’s around the corner. I still have secondary cancer and may need another op on my brain however I still believe in enjoying life and getting the most of it, now massively helped by my WHILL.”