‘Bionic leg’ device life-changing for MS sufferer

A woman living with multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years has told how the use of a groundbreaking Functional Electronic Stimulation device has changed her life offering a solution to a common symptom of the illness.
The Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES) deviceThe Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES) device
The Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES) device

Linda Cairns, 61, was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 1999 after experiencing symptoms for a number of years. Around four years ago, she started to trip and fall more often.

This was down to a condition known as “foot drop”, caused by weakness in the ankle or disruption in the nerve pathway between the legs and the brain which means it is difficult to lift the front of the foot to the correct angle during walking.

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Cairns, from Irvine, Ayrshire, started using a Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES) device and has reaped the benefits.

Linda Cairns, 61, from Irvine, Ayrshire, who was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 1999.Linda Cairns, 61, from Irvine, Ayrshire, who was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 1999.
Linda Cairns, 61, from Irvine, Ayrshire, who was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 1999.

She said: “I’d heard of FES but up until that point there had never been a suggestion it could be right for me. But in 2018 it was offered to me as a solution to my foot drop issue and it’s been absolutely life-changing.

“I always try to make sure that my MS doesn’t stop anything I want to do and the FES has played a role in that.

“When I was starting to fall more often it started to impact my hobbies – I’m a keen photographer and it was starting to affect that. So to have this element of support has been fantastic.”

FES is a medical device that stimulates the nerve at the side of the lower part of the leg and contracts the muscle at the outside of the leg to help lift the foot.

Cairns added: “Essentially, it takes the worry away from getting out and gives me more confidence to take things on.

“It’s made things easier and has really opened doors for me. I’m more likely to try new things or things that I might find tiring.

“Last year I got away to places across the world on my own for holidays and to visit family, and I know that’s something I would never have considered had I not had the FES.

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“I think investing in technologies like these is really important.

“Easy things can become hard when living with MS, so support like this can really help with quality of life and enable people to continue living life to the full.

“I never thought I would even consider what I call my ‘bionic leg’ but new research and tech can give people a lot of hope, which is really great.”

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to see the incredibly positive impact FES has had for Linda and for people across the MS community.

“We hear from our community and supporters how important maintaining and promoting independence is to them, and it is great to find positive stories about how people are being enabled to keep active.

“Research into new technologies to help the 15,000 people in Scotland with MS live well with the condition is incredibly important and with FES. We’ve seen a hugely positive result.”