Author Archives: Tiffiny

Joanna Finally Crosses Off a Bucket List Goal Post-Injury

Soon after a spinal cord injury many of us start getting that sneaking suspicion that we’re missing out on life. Whether it’s an event we can’t attend because it not accessible or an activity we can’t do because of our paralysis, they begin to stack up. Joanna Bonilla, paralyzed by Lupus, put a temporary halt to that growing list – if just for one night – when she attended SPINALpedia’s Adaptive Indoor Skydiving Event at iFLY in Loudon, Virginia last month.

“I was excited because I was finally able to do something on my bucket list. Excited because the dare devil in me was like FINALLY! Finally, that I was able to do something I wanted to do before my injury.” A resident of Springfield, Virginia, which is not far from iFLY, Joanna signed up for our event when she saw our online flier.

She also missed her old adventurous life pre-paralysis. “Before I was VERY Adventurous. I was always looking into doing something fun while on vacation. I had never done skydiving before my injury but it was on my bucket list.” And the entire experience at iFLY met her expectations and then some. “The experience made me feel FREE and even more confident that I can do anything. At first, I didn’t know what to expect from the whole experience.”

“As I looked at other fliers, I was nervous and excited. Nervous please I didn’t want to get hurt, I didn’t want to chicken out and what if I get sick.” One of her favorite parts of the day were the “Friendships with other participants that are experiencing the same as I. Facing the same fears, the same day to day struggles and sharing information with one another.”

The psychological benefits of the wind tunnel in particular, which makes the indoor skydiving experience possible, were especially awesome to Joanna. “After I got over the shock feeling and I took in a deep breathe. I was able to relax and loved the feeling of feeling FREE. I was allowed to have FUN and let go. In my wheelchair, I over analyze everything (“Can I get in that way?,” “Is it wheelchair friendly?,” “Will I be able to do this?”).

And she credits her dedicated workout regimen for her smooth sailing in the indoor skies. “My life started to turn around when I started to become physically active. That happened 3 years ago when I met Devon Palermo Founder of DPI Adaptive Gym. I loved going to the gym before my injury. It’s hard going to a regular gym because it feels as if everyone is seeing how you will work out.”

“At DPI, I was able to get my confidence back little by little. I am now stronger than I’ve ever been. I was able to do IFLY and every other adaptive activity because of DPI. She has also tried rock climbing and adaptive skiing in Colorado since becoming injured, but this 34 year old loves how easy it is to just get in some indoor skydiving in her own hometown.

And she recommends indoor skydiving in a big way. “I would absolutely recommend this to wheelchair users. You feel free, the feeling of feeling Capable of being ‘normal’ but in a different way. I am able to fly but with extra people helping me #specialtreatment. Even if someone were to say ‘But i am scared’… I would say do it because that’s what makes it worth it!”

Rayne Shield: A Waterproof Leg Protector

Annette wearing her creation. Note: It may look like the leg protector is touching the ground, but it does not touch the ground. Each leg protector is made to order.

It would be fair to say that nature isn’t the most wheelchair friendly, and especially when it comes to the rain. From bulky raincoats to umbrellas that just don’t reach everywhere (leaving knees and shoes wet!), what’s a wheelchair-user to do?

Annette Flowe, a paraplegic from Germany, was sick of getting wet every time it rained at her beloved annual music festival each summer. But it was this experience that inspired her to come up with her ingenious idea. It may seem simple on face value, but it took someone like Annette with her German sensibility to realize that it was high time a quality waterproof leg protector was created for wheelchair-users.

“For over 15 years, I have been going to the same music festival in East Germany, which takes place on the first weekend of July. There are a lot of open air stages and although the weather is usually good, almost every year there is at least one heavy rain shower during the weekend,” says Annette.

One year after a rain shower began, everyone pulled out compact raincoats, leaving Annette feeling like she needed one too. “My legs got soaking wet and it felt really uncomfortable (additionally to the fact that I was likely to catch a cold wearing wet clothes all day….). I thought that there should be something that you can pull out of your backpack quickly when you get caught in a shower, like all the fancy rain coats that people were suddenly producing out of somewhere.”

And she says wheelchair ponchos don’t cut it, as most of them aren’t 100% waterproof. “After the festival experience about 15 years ago, I made my first prototype of the product out of shower curtain fabric just for my own, personal use.” “However I realized that there was a gap in the market for this product since every leg cover I had seen so far was really big and bulky and not really meant for spontaneous-use.”

“For my upper-body, I just used my favorite rain jacket or sometimes cheap one-way ponchos, but my legs always got wet, which really irritated me. I wanted a product just as light and easy to use as a one-way rain poncho.” To make her a vision of reality, she teamed up with Dr. Eugene Emmer, a longtime colleague, to create a prototype of her idea and to help her market it. ”

“I have known Annette for probably about 10 years,” says Dr. Eugene Emmer, who helped Annette develop the product. “In October 2017, she suggested developing a rain cover for the legs of wheelchair-users, saying that it is a huge problem for wheelchair-users and she had made a simple version for herself from shower curtain material.”

To create the perfect covering for a wheelchair-user’s legs in the rain, Dr. Eugene Emmer went on Reddit to poll wheelchair-users if they would appreciate such a product to keep them dry in the rain. Astonishingly, over 80% of people polled said they do not have an adequate way of staying dry in the rain.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a low level paraplegic or a high level quadriplegic, if you’re sitting in a wheelchair, the physics of saying dry is nearly impossible. And the response Dr. Emmer received on behalf of Annette’s waterproof leg protector idea was huge. “47 people responded to our poll and to the question ‘Does your rain solution keep your legs dry?’ A surprising 84% said no!”

To understand what wheelchair-users needed even more OF, Dr. Emmer put together a group of 10 testers who use wheelchairs from around the world, including USA, Scotland, England, Germany and Lithuania. He sent a sample leg protector to each tester to get feedback. They received a lot of responses, from helping wheelchair-users find better ways to keep the protector on their legs to finding a better way to keep it on their lower legs.

“The testers also complained that their legs were protected but water was pooling on their seat cushion. So we created a special lap protector that attaches to the cover and tucks under the seat cushion,” says Dr. Emmer. “The testers asked for other modifications as well (finger loops to more easily put the protector into place, a larger carrying case, etc).”

After the testing was completed, they decided to call it Rayne Shield. It can fold compactly into its carrying case as well so it can be stored safely and securely with you whenever it starts to rain. It also is available six different colors, including camouflage. The cost is $65, plus shipping to the United States. Look for the Rayne Shield to be available online late this summer.

Buy your Rayne Shield here