DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Lia Gaertner
Jennifer French

Jennifer French grew up exploring the beauty of the natural world. So, a midnight run down snow-covered slopes under the light of a full moon was an invitation worth accepting. Unfortunately, her trip down the mountain in 1998 ended with an incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) at the C6-C7 level and left her paralyzed with tetraplegia. Although her life immediately changed course, Jennifer invested herself into two driving passions: sailing, a sport where she can leave her wheelchair and be treated equally on the race course, and pushing the boundaries of neurotechnology to assist those with SCI. Jennifer feels that “neurotechnology is the new frontier where we are literally merging our bodies and brains with technology to treat conditions, compensate for impairments, or augment performance.”

Following her injury, Jennifer discovered a clinical trial investigating the Stand and Transfer System of implanted electrodes by the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center, a consortium of MetroHealth, Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center. Precisely placed electrodes stimulate paralyzed muscles in the legs to allow users with sufficient upper body mobility to stand by using the muscles in their own legs. She became the first woman to receive the system as part of the clinical trial, a feat that Jennifer recognizes as her unique position to contribute and, with the trial’s association with the VA, give back to Veterans through the advancement of care. Jennifer feels fortunate to be able to use the Stand and Transfer System routinely—it even allowed her to walk down the aisle on her wedding day—and she feels compelled to participate and provide as much feedback as possible to help the research team. Her journey was published in her book, On My Feet Again: My Journey Out of the Wheelchair Using Neurotechnology

Jennifer French

Jennifer has gone on to become an accomplished athlete, winning a silver medal for Team U.S.A in sailing at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and becoming the first disabled person to receive the title of U.S. Sailing’s Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. Jennifer co-founded the Warrior Sailing Program1 to offer an outlet to the nation’s wounded Warriors through sailing and the community around the sport.

Lia Gaertner

Using her own experiences with SCI and neurotechnology, Jennifer has become a powerful consumer advocate, founding the 501(c)(3) non-profit Neurotech Network2 to bring the benefits of neurotechnology to people living with neurological conditions. Jennifer employs her MBA in marketing and strategy to help both for-profit and non-profit organizations bring advances in neurotechnology to people who might benefit. She is an active public speaker, having delivered addresses to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and TEDx events.3 Jennifer is a founding member and vice president of the North American Spinal Cord Injury Consortium.4 She is also the Associate Publisher and Senior Editor of Neurotech Reports,5 a market intelligence service dedicated to providing impactful information in the field of neurotechnology development to the business and technology worlds.

In 2019, Jennifer accepted an invitation to serve on the SCIRP Programmatic Panel, where her experience with SCI, both personally and professionally, will help guide the recommended future investments of the program. Jennifer said of her experience, “The perspective of different stakeholders in the SCI community brings a richness to the program. I love the fact that there are people with lived experience as well as clinicians on the board to give the “boots on the ground” insight. The goals of the SCIRP program and the funds invested now can translate into meaningful change for people living with SCI (including families and caregivers) and those who will endure the condition in the future.”

Links:

1 https://warriorsailing.org/

2 https://www.neurotechnetwork.org

3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkspAQW_2sQ

4 https://nasciconsortium.org/

5 http://neurotechreports.com/index.html

Last updated Tuesday, October 13, 2020