Lauren Doherty: Wheelchair Independence

Twelve years ago, Lauren Doherty was hit by a van after a night out with friends, leaving her paralysed from the neck down.

Lauren spent 16 weeks in hospital with a broken neck and was told she would never be able to breathe on her own again.

However, Lauren proved doctors wrong and has spent the past five years dedicating her life to prevent others from going through the same experience through ‘Road Safety Talks’.

Our latest blog takes a look at Lauren’s incredible journey, including her campaign work, and how Innova Care Concepts have helped her gain more independence with her powered wheelchair.

1)    Background

On a summer’s evening in 2008, Lauren had been out with a group of friends to watch a band play. Having decided to walk home afterwards, Lauren crossed the road without looking and was hit by a van.

The impact left Lauren paralysed from the neck down, having broken her neck, with doctors fearing that she’d never be able to breathe on her own again.

Kept in an induced coma for the first three days after the accident, Lauren subsequently spent three-and-a-half weeks in intensive care.

Lauren visiting Innova’s office

In total, Lauren spent 16 months in different hospitals ranging from intensive care units to a specialist spinal injury unit, before spending the last six months away from home in a local rehabilitation centre.

Eventually after two years of trials, Lauren’s determination and courage put her in a position to not be totally dependent on a ventilator, enabling her to move back to her mum and dad’s home, which had been specially adapted for her different care needs.

Inspiration and Goals

After moving back to her parent’s home, Lauren was determined to rebuild her life again.

In October 2013, Lauren finally moved into her own purpose-built bungalow, achieving her ambition of living independently, with the help of two carers.

Lauren always wanted to educate children and young adults, and through the charity Road Safety Talks, saw an opportunity to pass on her experiences of what she had been through to raise awareness of road safety.

From her first visit to a primary school in 2016, Lauren has now delivered road safety talks to more than 8,000 children and young adults in local schools and groups (brownies and cubs etc.).

Lauren’s dedication to her campaign work has also been recognised both locally and nationally, winning numerous awards including the British Citizens Award in 2019 and most recently, the British Empire Medal (BEM) for Services to Education.

Want to find out more about Road Safety Talks? Check out their website:

2)    Help from Innova

To help Lauren gain more independence, she reached out to Innova Care Concepts for their expertise with powered wheelchairs.

Innova first met Lauren in July 2018, with the ambition of getting Lauren’s independence back by helping her gain the ability to drive her own powered wheelchair.

Due to being paralysed from the neck down, Lauren has extremely limited mobility having broken her spine in two places, as well as her pelvis.

This posed a huge challenge in how Lauren would be able to navigate the controls of her Permobil wheelchair.

Innova’s Permobil Expert, Ramsey Hulbert

However, Innova have decades of extensive experience in the field of mobility consulting and were able to trial a number of different options that would be bespoke to Lauren’s needs.

Innovative Methods for Powered Wheelchairs

A number of initiatives were consider and trialled, being subsequently eliminated if they didn’t perform what was needed for such a precise task.

One attempt looked at using Lauren’s head as the controller. For this to be achieved, we needed to see how we could stabilise Lauren’s head initially, by creating a lateral winged headrest on her Permobil wheelchair.

Unfortunately this didn’t give enough contouring for Lauren’s head, with it constantly turning out of it.

Another option that was tested was a 120 segment multi-adjustable headrest which did allow for more head control, utilising a standard L shape fixed bracketry.

Innova’s adapted mechanism to help Lauren control her own powered wheelchair

However, this method was too rigid in approach and didn’t allow for any adjustment to it as it was 5mm too far out.

After many different trials and demonstrations, Innova suggested an idea influenced by the control mechanisms Lauren was using to type on her computer.

This was the idea that would make all the difference.

Watch our interview with Lauren to learn more about her campaign work and how Innova helped increase her independence:

3)    Improving Wheelchair Independence

Having worked on a number of different ideas to help Lauren control her own wheelchair, our leading team of experts sought inspiration from the current mechanisms that she was using in her daily life.

Extremely passionate about technology to spread awareness of her road safety campaign, Lauren uses a suck and blow mouthpiece to control her computer, with this action registering the keyboard clicks.

After seeing this first hand, Innova knew they could use something similar to help Lauren control her wheelchair by herself.

Using some older Manfrotto camera mounts in a variety of different sizes and lengths, and knowing that whatever device was created, it had to allow for being operated by one hand in an easy, quick action.

Innova created a unique driving system featuring a joystick and a headrest mount, using a specific Manfrotto mount and bespoke parts that were welded together linking to the controller.

It consisted of one locker lever that would lock all pivoting joints, so it was easy to use for Lauren’s carers with one hand free operation.

Once the initial prototype was created, Innova delivered it to Lauren to test for a few days, followed up with multiple visits thereafter to precisely tweak the gadget.

The end result was remarkable as for the first time since her accident, Lauren was able to operate her wheelchair by herself.

Read our blog to learn more about the processes involved for a powered wheelchair assessment:

Conclusion

Assessing the individual needs and competencies of each person is the goal for any healthcare equipment specialist.

In Lauren’s case, Innova looked at how they could optimise her quality of life with her powered wheelchair, developing a strategy for maximizing competencies while limiting the challenges.

It has been hugely rewarding to see the difference the unique driving system has made, enabling Lauren to control her own wheelchair and boosting her independence.

When provided with adequate support, people with disabilities can live meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives, within their own communities,.

Lauren is a testament to that, with her amazing campaign helping to educate young adults and children across the country.

Lauren Doherty – Enabling Her To Drive Her Own Wheelchair

Let us provide you with the most up to date information and resources, we’ll be at the Occupational Therapy Show 2021 – 24th & 25th November (Stand J33) and Adults to Kidz North (Stand D11) on 17th November 2021 at the ACC in Liverpool.

Come and see us so we can share our insights into how we help clients such as Lauren!

Download our free poster to learn more: