Harness of hope: Invention from mother of wheelchair-bound son helps him and other physically impaired children walk for the first time
A mother's invention that gave her wheelchair-bound son the chance to walk has been launched onto the worldwide market.
A Northern Ireland company has turned Debby Elnatan's idea for a walking harness into a product that could transform the lives of countless disabled children.
Mrs Elnatan, a music therapist, came up with the concept to help her young son Rotem, who has cerebral palsy.
She designed a support harness that would enable Rotem to stand upright and, by attaching it to herself, let parent and child take steps together.
After a global search for a company to mass-produce her "Upsee", the Israeli mother chose Northern Ireland-based manufacturer Leckey, which has a long track record in making equipment for children with special needs.
After successful trials with families in the UK, US and Canada, the Firefly Upsee was today launched globally.
'It is wonderful to see this product available to families across the world,' said Ms Elnatan, who was at the official unveiling at the Leckey factory in Lisburn.
'When my son was two years old, I was told by medical professionals that "he didn't know what his legs are and has no consciousness of them".
'That was an incredibly difficult thing for a mother to hear. I started to walk him day after day, which was a very strenuous task for both of us. Out of my pain and desperation came the idea for the Upsee and I'm delighted to see it come to fruition.'
The Upsee allows infants and small children to stand and achieve repetitive walking training with the support of an adult.
It includes a harness for the child, which attaches to a belt worn by an adult, and specially-engineered sandals that allow the parent and child to step simultaneously, leaving their hands free for play and other tasks.
Designers, engineers, textile experts and therapists from Leckey's Firefly team have been working on the project since 2012.
Maura McCrystal, mother of five-year-old Jack, from Draperstown in Northern Ireland, has been one of the first UK parents to use the product.
'Last Sunday was a significant one for us as a family as it was the first time our son Jack was able to play football in the back garden with his dad, his brothers and our little dog Milly,' she said.
'To see Jack playing like any other five-year-old boy made me very emotional. Jack and his brothers so enjoyed it.'
Firefly's clinical research manager and occupational therapist, Clare Canale, said the product could help families across the world.
'Short-term, the Upsee improves special needs family participation and quality of life, while research suggests it has the potential to help with physical and emotional development in the longer term,' she said.
'It has been humbling to see the progress and happiness the Upsee is creating; watching children to do simple things for the first time such as kicking a ball or playing with a sibling is wonderful for everyone involved, but especially the families.
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