This Parkinson’s Awareness Month, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is amplifying stories from our community members.
Family members play a critical role in supporting loved ones with Parkinson’s disease (PD). While some fundraise, run marathons or participate in research, others find out-of-the-box ways to care for their family members with PD.
“Our entire lives we only knew her with Parkinson’s,” Nellie Fisher, 19, and sister Bailey Fisher, 17, say about their grandmother who lived with PD for many years before passing away in 2018.
At a New York high school, Nellie led a project as part of her science research class that Bailey took over in her senior year. They chose to pursue a topic that had impacted their lives — Parkinson’s disease.
“My grandmother struggled with sitting upright in a chair,” Nellie recalls. “It also affected how she was able to eat or even communicate with us,” Bailey adds. Posture issues are common for people with Parkinson’s but also hard to treat. (Learn more in a webinar on this topic.)
In honor of their grandmother, the teens developed a wearable device — in the form of a vest — to help people with Parkinson’s improve their posture.
Nellie and Bailey had conversations with MJFF scientists who put them in touch with experts in the field, notably Arun Jayaraman, PT, PhD, director of the Max Näder Center for Rehabilitation Technologies & Outcomes Research. With support from MJFF in 2019, Dr. Jayaraman developed a wearable airbag to mitigate falls in people with PD. The teens worked with Dr. Jayaraman to create a comfortable and safe way for people with Parkinson’s to stay seated.
“It’s a responsive vest that uses technology that reacts to a person falling over,” says Nellie. "If a person starts falling, the vest will inflate and prop the person back up.”
Nellie and Bailey have participated in (virtual) science fairs and competitions and won many awards for their innovative technology. Most recently, they won the David M. Holmes WESEF Engineering Innovation award which included fellowships to work at a lab and a $300 cash prize. They donated their winnings to MJFF. “We wanted to give back to people who had helped us,” Bailey explains.
While Nellie and Bailey still have years of school ahead of them, they hope to one day make the vest widely accessible to people with Parkinson’s.
A prototype of the posture vest created by Nellie and Bailey Fisher.