Entrepreneurial blood runs where it cannot go... Freekje Van Schuylenbergh, aka Ms LEF, is one such fine example. She didn't get her nickname lightly. Since Freekje (40) was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome eight years ago and has been confined to a wheelchair, she has been fighting tirelessly to get out of the prison her body has become and to make her dreams come true.
Freekje, mum of Tijs (10), is a positive lady who possesses a great deal of perseverance... to say the least. Since she suffered a stroke on New Year's Eve 2014, her body has stopped listening to her brain. A brainstem infarction caused her to become 'locked-in*'. Mentally fine, but talking, eating, walking, moving, and all other day-to-day things are no longer possible.
* Nvdr.: the locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a state in which a person is locked inside his/her body. However, the person is aware of his/her surroundings. It is a severe paralysis of the muscles of the face, mouth, tongue and limbs. Because of this complete paralysis, speaking is no longer possible, but communication is possible with the eyes or e.g. with a speech computer.
Her life would never be the same again, but her fighting spirit thought otherwise. She drove herself further than anyone thought possible. Even before she left the hospital for the rehabilitation centre at the end of January 2015, she could already move her arm very slightly. In Inkendaal, the rehabilitation centre, she did not think of giving up. After two years of hard work to relearn how to step, produce sounds, eat and so on, her progress stopped and she went back home. Living independently in her normal home situation, in her house that has since been fully adapted for a wheelchair user.
She has since revised expectations : a full recovery will be very difficult. But giving up? No way! Every day she still trains extremely hard to regain her independence.
During her stay at Inkendaal, Freekje had a lot of time to observe people in addition to the daily therapies. As a proud lady who likes to look good herself, she found it appalling how difficult it was to find adapted clothing for wheelchair users and was annoyed, among other things, by the ugly bib put on them during meals.
Freekje, who previously worked at Vlaio with enterprising young people and dreamed of running her own business, took matters into her own hands and decided to do something about it. In December 2017, she founded her own webshop with innovative but above all practical textile applications and accessories for wheelchair users, with things she herself needed. Above all, she wanted to show that you can also mention words like hip, cool, trendy in the same breath as wheelchair. And what name could better suit her company than 'Ms LEF'?
Through an old acquaintance she used to work with often at Vlaio, she ended up at Aavora, a bespoke Oudenaarde-based company where target group employees are extended to people with a distance to the labour market. These employees perform simple contract work under expert supervision, giving them a chance on the employment circuit. According to Freekje, this totally fitted the bill! She had her ideas sketched out by her good friend Vera, were transformed into final patterns by the seamstress at Aarova and with these the staff at Aarova set to work. The necessary materials were bought online by Freekje in the Netherlands. Orders were placed via bpost neatly delivered to the customer.
Ms LEF was a dream but Freekje still had dreams, lots of dreams. Still. Unfortunately, she felt in June 2019 the urge, or rather the need, to make choices as she set the bar for herself immeasurably too high and lost grip on what really counted.... her daily rehabilitation. For a year and a half, Freekje had given her heart and soul to this webshop. According to her, a business should be able to keep growing, but unfortunately her verbal limitations made this too difficult. It was a beautiful adventure she was and still is very proud of.
Entrepreneurship with a physical disability is absolutely possible... if your body allows it.
Thanks Greet Callebaut For this inspiring article 💚