Noell from Made for Movement and Stephanie from Gympanzees share a mission to make lasting change for children and adults with disability. Their meeting was by happenstance at an event, provoked by a piece of equipment called the Innowalk. They struck up a working relationship and mutual respect based on a shared vision. We asked them to explain how their connection has developed in the last few years.
What’s Your Recollection of the first time you met?
Noell: I immediately knew Stephanie Wheen was a practical and deeply devoted clinician when she approached me during my very first KIDZ South and said; ‘I have seen this Innowalk device online, do not tell me anything about it; can I have a try for 30 minutes and if I feel a change in my body tomorrow, I will call you!’
Steph: I came across Noell and the Innowalks about 5 years ago at the Kids South exhibition. It looked like an incredible piece of kit so I asked to have a go – I sat in it and was strapped in and then moved up into a standing position. The legs then went round in a similar pattern to walking and I could feel muscles working although the motor was doing all of the work. This was the first bit of equipment I had come across that allowed for mobile weight bearing – something so many of my clients can’t ever achieve. The next day I had some sore muscles which was the last piece of the puzzle. I was sold.
What Happened Next?
Noell: It is safe to say Steph felt a difference! This happened back in 2015, and I had just transferred from a clinical therapist to working with the Innowalk. Stephanie was one of the first therapists I worked closely with. We organised a full day of assessments for 11 different patients at the clinic in Bristol. The day went incredibly well. The day ended and we both felt like we had made real progress. There was a sense of real breakthrough! Noell says of Steph “I felt empowered by Steph’s open-mindedness and bonded with her over our shared passion and mission to make a lasting change for all children and adults with disability. We both wanted our working mission to encourage better access to movement, exercise and participation. Knowing what great benefits would come with this change! It was no easy feat, but we both were very clear on that.”
Steph: Noell and I organised a trial day for some of my clients. And what a day that was. There were tears of joy from many of the parents and Noell and I both had a tear in our eye on several occasions– especially when 1 boy – Connor – exclaimed ‘Daddy I’m running’!
What Is an Innowalk?
The Innowalk enables movement and exercise for all. It’s a very versatile therapy tool. It is a dynamic standing device that allows users of various ages and ability to access and experience repetitive, comfortable, weightbearing movement against gravity. It is designed to allow safe movement for the most complex of presentations as well as the more mobile individuals.
Made for Movement have a growing body of evidence demonstrating that accessing movement through the Innowalk has a very positive and significant effect on each individual user both physically and emotionally. It can contribute to reducing and eliminating many secondary complications that occur due to immobility caused by various neurological diagnosis. Whilst more importantly being an adjunct to improving the users over all wellbeing and quality of life.
Steph says ”The benefits are so obvious but the Innowalk is out of most people’s budget. Despite this 6 of my clients fundraised and bought the Innowalk for home. After the trials I did some research over the next 3 months and found children’s muscles had grown, trunks and necks had become stronger. And note some amazing functional changes including a little boy who had never been able to propel himself in his walker who became independent in it and another boy who gained head control allowing him to access his world much more fully.
A Genius Idea Is Born – Gympanzees!
Noell was already working with Steph for about a year and they regularly kept in touch, as she explains: I was sharing any new evidence I had about implementing the type of movement provided by the Innowalk. We had planned another assessment day and reviews of some of her patients, when I noticed a sparkle in Steph’s eyes, something was different! That was the beginning of Gympanzees.
It was not yet called this, but she told me of this project that she was committed to, she had already cut down her practicing hours to make it a reality. Steph dared to mention that our collaboration spurred this on, I feel it was her calling! Her excitement and devotion were contagious, and I knew it would succeed. I also knew I wanted to be part of it and support her in any way possible, from initial market research to the incredible POP-UP’s.
Steph explains how Gympanzees idea was born “I have been an avid supporter ever since and tried to work out how I could get the Innowalk to more people. The fundraising is not possible for many and it seemed to me that every child who couldn’t weight bear should be able to use one. This was part of my motivation to set up Gympanzees – somewhere children and young people could come to use it as often as they liked for a tiny fraction of the price.
As far as Noell is concerned it became an initiative they wanted to support. “Made for Movement have always supported all the Gympanzees POP-UP’s; it is a project representing our mission to allow access to movement for all. We aim to support for as long as possible, hopefully till Gympanzees is an established facility where we hope to have permanent residency and also allowing access to all our innovative products based around movement and participation!
Mutual Support and Admiration
I feel privileged to know and work along Steph and the Gympanzees team. To have witnessed and supported the start of Gympanzees, a special and powerful organisation that I know in my heart will influence change for the better and set a leading example that will spread across the country and more. Noell
Noell has been truly amazing throughout this process. The feedback about Noell from my clients who have Innowalks at home is always gleaming and she has arranged so that we can have the Innowalks at each Pop Up free of charge. It is now one of our key attractions at Gympanzees. We have had over 20 children and young people take their first assisted steps in the Innowalk – and the tears of joy continue. In fact, 2 more families are now fundraising to get an Innowalk at home, it was such a hit. We couldn’t be more grateful to Noell and to Made for Movement – this really is changing lives.” Steph