In the spotlight

Innovator in the Spotlight – Willemijn Faber (Heliomare)

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Heliomare is a rehabilitation clinic with multiple locations in the province of North-Holland. Heliomare focuses on sports, rehabilitation, and employment integration and aims to have clients live at home as long as possible. Through research and development, in collaboration with universities, Heliomare aims to contribute to more successful treatments. A good example of innovation at Heliomare is the usage of an exoskeleton or the ongoing pilot for the MOWOOT, in collaboration with MedScaler.

A key figure in the field of spinal cord injuries (SCI) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is rehabilitation doctor Willemijn Faber. We interviewed Willemijn about her opinion on innovation in healthcare, her profession, and the collaboration with us through MedScaler’s Innovators Club, an international network of healthcare professionals that have committed to sharing their expert opinion and invaluable feedback.

Can you tell me something about what you do?

“My work is quite diverse, which helps to keep it interesting. Most of my time I work as rehabilitation doctor specialized in SCI, MS, and amputations. I combine that with my role as medical manager at Heliomare, where I am currently pursuing my PhD research on Neurogenic Bowel Dysfunction (NBD). Besides that, I am a board member of a hospice in Haarlem, where I am focused on improving the quality of life of people. Finally, I chair the Dutch and Flemish SCI association as well as the Slootmans Support Fund.”

That’s quite an impressive track record. Can you tell me how you also keep up to date with innovations?

“I learn about innovations in various ways to which my different roles also contribute. By chairing the Dutch and Flemish SCI association, I talk with many different parties about interesting health innovations. I always try to keep these innovations in mind, as they have the potential of being implemented at Heliomare. The people at Heliomare are also very innovation-minded. Sometimes, my colleagues or I spot an innovation on television and we think; “This could be very relevant for our patients.” Other times, I’m directly approached through my network such as by MedScaler with the Innovators Club.”

Interesting! Can you tell me what Heliomare does with regard to innovation?

“Heliomare is an innovative organization with ambitious and dynamic people. Everybody is open-minded and wants to contribute to the implementation of innovation. We go to various congresses, including those outside our direct line of work. We also train new and young healthcare professionals on various levels at Heliomare. This contributes to our open culture, as everyone has their own experiences through former care organizations. That’s why we learn from each other, which is useful and interesting.”

What does the process look like for health innovations?

“There used to be plenty of financing in rehabilitation care, which allowed us to purchase several innovations. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Nowadays, writing a solid project plan or filing for a subsidy is key for obtaining health innovations. In a way, that makes sense. The risk nowadays is that it is too much a hassle to find funding for innovations. Luckily, we have the Vrienden van Heliomare (Friends of Heliomare); which is an association based on gifts from, for instance, former patients. They are fond of innovations and can help us find the funds for a new health innovation. Something very low-cost can be very innovative and when this succeeds, it gives a boost to also continue with projects which require more effort and funding.”

What is the most interesting innovation you have recently seen?

“Several years ago, we came across an exoskeleton during our work (see picture below). This is an innovative walking suit that allows SCI patients to walk normally. I saw this innovation and decided to write a subsidy application, even though I had no experience with this. Together with my colleagues, we succeeded and received a large grant to get this exoskeleton. It was a huge success, both for patients and Heliomare. It was something very new and we got a lot of publicity, ranging from the NOS (Dutch news association) to Knevel & Van De Brink (Dutch primetime talk show).

This was a good example of an innovation that didn’t only help the patient, but was also great for our organization, publicity and boosted the team. The suit contributes to the recovery for patients who are expected to walk in the future but is also used for patients who really would like to walk once more, which we call The Efteling Experience (referring to the Dutch fairytale theme park ‘The Efteling’). Although this does not directly contribute to recovery, it can make patients happy.”

Copyright: Ljilja Suvajdžić,

For which problem do you hope to see innovation?

“There should be an effective solution for Neurogenic Bowel Dysfunction. NBD leads to incontinence and obstipation for many SCI patients. This is not very well-known; incontinence is not a hot topic. Many patients prefer to be able to control their bowels and defecation over being able to walk again! It is socially more accepted to be in a wheelchair than to be incontinent. We have just finished a double-blind and placebo-controlled study for probiotic use. Probiotics themselves are not very innovative, but the way they are being applied is, especially for NBD with SCI patients. In addition, we hope that the MOWOOT also helps with NBD and we are currently testing this. Finally, we are working on a computer program that educates NBD patients on their food intake. It would be great if we can find something that works for these patients!”

We are happy that Willemijn is part of our Innovators Club, and excited to think together about innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the future.

Are you working on an innovation that is interesting for Heliomare? Let us know via

Would you also like to become part of the MedScaler Innovators Club? Join here.

Would you like to see an extensive overview of all healthcare innovations we’ve helped scale? Check out our Innovation Database.