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Medical technology offers new outlook on life

10:57 PM, Nov 7, 2003   |    comments
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St. Petersburg - More than 30 sailors will be out on the water this weekend, docking from St. Petersburg, hoping to sail for a gold medal. 

It's the Paralympic Trials Regatta, and those who make it, will head to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece. And one woman will be cheering them on and training at the same time, getting ready for her debut in the 2008 Paralympics. Jennifer French loves the adrenaline rush that comes from sailing. And an accident during another sport she loves forced her to use a wheelchair. 

Back in 1998, Jennifer was snowboarding, when she hit a patch of ice, went down 30 feet, and hit several trees. When she woke up in ICU, initially, Jennifer was a quadriplegic. Rehabilitation and medication gave her mobility in her upper body. But she must use a wheelchair or walker to get around. 

More than a year ago, Jennifer heard about the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center, in Ohio, where clinical trials allowed patients to use a 'bionic body' to get around. She straps on a box filled with batteries and computer chips. High level radio frequencies are sent to an implant in her body. The receiver grabs the messages and sends them down to implanted electrodes, which allows her to stand. 

In the past, she could only stand 15 minutes at a time, now Jennifer can stand more than an hour each day. And with the 'bionic body' she was able to walk down the aisle when she married her husband Tim two years ago. It's been more than a year, and the device gives Jennifer more movement when she's sailing. 

She'll cheer on her fellow sailors this weekend, and continue training for her quest to make it to the Games. The 'bionic body' has not been approved by the FDA, but Jennifer says it gives her hope breakthroughs and medical technology will continue to change the lives of paralysis and stroke victims.

De Anna Sheffield, Tampa Bay's 10 News

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