Thumbs up! My best friend, WREX is here!

Published Date
Michaela Hollywood uses WREX at Spirit of NI Awards 2013

Today, Trailblazers have launched our Switched On report into the use of assistive technology.  In Switched On you will find useful information about everything from using specialised controls to play on games consoles to the simple every day pieces of technology that are true life hacks for those of us living with neuromuscular conditions.

For me, technology has been front and centre since I was 6 and we got our first family computer – an old Packard Bell running a primitive version of Windows.  Since then we’ve evolved, and my iPhone allows me to control parts of my TV, while my Macbook can answer my phone calls.  It’s all very advanced, and technology keeps getting better.  What might be a new convenience for most non-disabled people very quickly becomes an essential part of daily living for those of us living with disabilities. 

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s my father worked as a mechanic in the Vauxhall factory.  When there he worked with equipment suspended on springs to make it light and moveable without the need for a crane to lift it.  40 years on, that same theory has been applied on a smaller scale.

WREX – or Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton – is anything but robotic.  Some clever bioengineers at DuPont Hospital for Children put together some metal in a natural exoskeleton for arms, including elbow and shoulder joints.  They created some hinges at the forearm and upper arm, which highly durable and stretchy elastic bands go around.  The more elastic bands there are, the less weight there is in your arm and the less gravity can hold you down.  WREX has some truly life changing results.

The first day I tried WREX, I managed to accidentally hit my occupational therapist.  The NHS wouldn’t fund it and so my family in England took matters into their own hands, and in just a few weeks we had the money to buy one arm, while my uncle gave me the money for the second.  We were in awe at the generosity of everyone.

My trial was in June.  On the 26th of December 2012 I finally had my own WREX and the difference was astounding.  While I was uncoordinated for a few days, I was lifting full cups right up to my mouth, sitting at a table and eating unassisted without spilling food on my clothes, and giving my nephew high fives and hugs all on my own.

Being able to scratch your own itches, eat without interrupting a family member during their own dinner or even just hold a phone to my ear was incredible.  There are lots of mobile arm supports (MAS) like WREX, but they all vary slightly.  The Neater Eater is just one of many that help those of us who fight a constant war with gravity.

I’ll never be able to thank everyone enough for such astounding generosity.  Technology is pretty cool and the more advances that are made, the more I can do independently.  But as amazing as advances like Hey Siri and smart and connected TVs are as they let me not need to so much as touch my phone or TV remote, nothing will beat that feeling of hugging my nephew for the first time.  

And for that, that group of clever bioengineers at DuPont hospital will be my heroes forever.

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