«BRO is my glimpse of hope when dark clouds pass over me»
Franz has had to endure countless strokes of fate in his life. Nevertheless, the man from Fribourg never lost hope. In the future, not only his environment will support him in difficult times, but his own BRO will also give him strength.
A ray of hope for dark days
When Franz first read about BRO in 2017, he dreamed of owning one. In August 2019, the time has come and he takes a test drive with the very first prototype: «I thought this is exactly what I want. I felt like I could conquer the world. Like I could walk again.» But the dream of having his own BRO remains out of reach when his application is rejected by the IV. Franz, however, does not give up his heart’s desire and touches countless people all over Switzerland with his story. A story that leaves no one cold and also falls on the ears of his favourite programme. Numerous people submitted his wish to SRF’s «Happy Day» programme. In January 2023, on his personal «Happy Day» in Murten’s castle courtyard, the time has finally come and Franz receives his own BRO: «When I got there, BRO was hidden behind a staircase and I didn’t suspect anything. The moment BRO was launched in its hiding place, I recognised the sound and knew my very biggest dream was now coming true.» A moment that not only brings tears of joy and goosebumps, but also gives new strength: «BRO came at just the right time, because some time ago I fell into a dark hole again. I didn’t want this to happen, but December and January are particularly hard for me as most of my blows of fate hit me during that time.» It’s a moment that will continue to give Franz strength in the future: «This day, this experience, will stay with me forever and be a glimpse of hope when dark clouds pass over me.»
Countless new ideas and opportunities
«I am really looking forward to the fact that I can now visit all my friends again. But also that I can go shopping again without having to ask for help every time I need something from the top shelf,» Franz tells us about the newfound freedom that BRO will give him from now on. The most important thing for him, however, is his health: «Due to the strain of driving with the hand wheelchair, the existing damage in my upper body is getting worse. This causes more and more physical limitations». His doctors had long advised him to get an electric wheelchair. But his financial and living conditions did not allow it. This has now changed and Franz’s health will hopefully remain stable thanks to BRO. The new possibilities for the man from Fribourg are endless: «I can now hold conversations at eye level, read books in nature, travel independently and much more. I have countless images and ideas in my head of what I can do now with BRO,» Franz continues to enthuse. A lot is changing for him. He no longer feels like a wheelchair user, but: «When I’m out and about with BRO, I feel 90 percent like a pedestrian again.»
A life marked by setbacks
Franz had to learn early on that life also has its downsides. His relationship with his father was marked by pain and humiliation. His mother separated from him and took the children with her. But as so often in Franz’s life, a spark of hope does not mean that everything will get better: «The unexpected loss of my mother left the biggest mark on me. She died at 38 in a traffic accident. She was a single parent with four children. I was only 14 years old at the time.» An event Franz finds difficult to talk about. And as soon as he has gained new hope, the next misfortune follows: «The second greatest stroke of fate was my brain haemorrhage and brain tumour at the age of 19. Since then I have been paralysed on one side. Before that I was very active and sporty. My whole life changed overnight.» But Franz never gave up. He fought and was able to enjoy an international career as a computer scientist. But life tested his positive attitude again: «I was found to have malignant cells and to stop the cancer I had several operations on my oesophagus, hand, back, testicles, foot and brain.» But even after this ordeal, Franz did not lose hope. That’s the only reason he survived the next challenge: «I have been paraplegic since 2015. This is a result of my hemiplegia and years of misuse of my spine. I had a disc hernia which I was operated on and which burst while I was waiting for the operation. The operation was more complicated than expected and there were complications. The nerves were damaged and I suffered complete paraplegia.»
A disc hernia or slipped disc can occur when the intervertebral discs are subjected to a lot of stress over a long period of time, through heavy physical work, sport or poor posture. This causes tears in the outer fibrous ring of the intervertebral disc, which can press part of the gelatinous core into the spinal canal and thus damage the nerves.
Barriers also cause mental stress
Being confined to a wheelchair brings a whole new set of physical and mental challenges: «When you’re in a wheelchair, you encounter obstacles everywhere in everyday life. That also takes a toll on you psychologically.» The barriers are unavoidable: «I am a proud citizen of Freiburg and love my surroundings. But there are many old buildings, cobblestones and slopes. I can hardly overcome all this without help.» But the obstacles are not only found on public property. Much more burdensome are those at home or in the immediate environment: «What bothered me most was that I could no longer visit some of my friends and family. And there were also many obstacles at home. For example, I could no longer go up to the first floor or take things out of my freezer on my own.» Barriers that thanks to BRO are now surmountable and allow Franz to live a new life. A life full of independence.
Franz, the fighter
Modest as he is, Franz does not let himself be treated to his Happy Day and his own BRO: «I’m almost ashamed that I, of all people, was granted such a wish. There are so many others who deserved it at least as much as I did.» Even after everything he had to experience, Franz thinks of others first: «Now I will fight for all those who depend on such a tool. Fighting for something to change in politics and for technologies like BRO to become accessible to all.»
A clear declaration of fight that will hopefully quickly bear fruit on which the health of people like Franz depends. For him, however, it’s about a lot more: «Politicians must understand that such a power wheelchair is not simply a nice-to-have. Because no matter whether an aid gives 20, 50, or 90 percent accessibility, every piece of independence you get back is priceless.»