The joy of a child’s first steps is a moment cherished by parents worldwide. Those initial hesitant, unsteady totters, staggers and little lurches are so comical, sweet and let’s face it, tear-inducing. The helpless infant is mobile, ready to explore the world, growing up. Everything starts with tiny baby steps.
This magical milestone is one that many toddlers and their families never get to experience due to conditions where a child needs mobility aids to get around. Now an inspired and inventive Israeli mother has come up with an idea, which, like all the best ones, is brilliant in its simplicity.
Named the Firefly Upsee harness, a bright new world has been opened up for wheelchair-bound children, by its inception and creation. Debby Elnatan’s son Rotem has cerebral palsy. Debby thought what fun it could be for Rotem if he could “walk on her feet” a trick many adults use to entertain and amuse kids. All it would take would be some sort of harness which could attach him in an upright position to her own legs. As such a thing did not exist, she designed it. To both hers and Rotem’s delight, the concept worked and mother and child could strut about in step.
The harness straps around the parent’s waist and a little padded jacket holds the child in a vertical position. It is not at all unlike the swimming jackets babies and toddlers wear when they first learn to swim. Feet are then strapped together into matching sandals and both can go forward in tandem. Hands and arms are left completely free so all sorts of games and activities can be played whilst in the Upsee.
Debby looked for a company that could manufacture the harness for her. She wanted other children with special needs to discover the freedom of movement. Leckeys, in Northern Ireland, took on the commission. Today saw the official launch of the Firefly Upsee at the Leckeys factory in Lisburn.
Maura McCrystal, one of the first mothers to try out the Upsee, spoke of her joy at watching her son Jack play football in their back garden. She said it made her extremely emotional to watch her boy playing like any other five-year-old. Jack’s condition is yet to be formally diagnosed, but he carries an oxygen tank and uses a wheelchair.
Another very happy mother is Stacey Warden from Colorado. Her son Noah, like Debby’s boy Rotem, has cerebral palsy. She enthused how using the harness has allowed them to do so much more, and to go to places they would never have been able to in the past.
Debby was told when her son was born that he had no consciousness of having legs, and would never be able to use them. She refused to believe this. Day after day she held him and walked with him, but it was physically very tiring for her own back and arms. She wished there were some method to relieve that pressure and make their training walks together more comfortable.
Now that the Upsee is a viable going concern, its uses and applications are expected to expand. Clearly a great device for improving the quality of life and for family participation and interaction, the Upsee has potential as a tool in physical and emotional development. For a child who has been confined to a wheelchair, being able to stand up and kick a ball or to paint at an easel or run are all unimaginable riches. It really is a happy chance to say “Upsee daisy!”
‘My hope is it will be used all over the world to give our children a better childhood says Debby Eltanan. Parents and therapists who are interested might like to listen in to live web discussions on April 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the GMT times of 11am and 5.30pm on the Leckey website.
The first steps of children never expected to walk are a welcome sight and a precious gift.
By Kate Henderson