Firefly Upsee: Lean on me... invention that lets disabled kids take their first step
An invention made by a Northern Ireland company is helping wheelchair-bound children around the world walk and stand for the first time.
The Firefly Upsee was the idea of a mother from Israel – built and developed in Lisburn – and has so far helped children with mobility problems from the province, England and America to walk and play.
The standing and walking harness was the brainchild of inventor Debby Elnatan and it is hoped it can help improve the quality of life for thousands of children. It involves a harness for the child, which attaches to the adult belt, and specially-engineered sandals.
This allows the parent and child to step simultaneously and leaves their hands free for play and other tasks.
Among the families trialling the product is Maura McCrystal from Draperstown.
She said it helped her five-year-old son play football for the first time with his family. Jack's condition is still undiagnosed, but he is wheelchair-bound and has an oxygen tank. "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."
Thousands of miles away, Stacy Warden from Colorado also trialled the product. Her five-year-old son Noah has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy covers a number of neurological conditions that affect a child's movement and co-ordination. "It allows us to do so many things and go so many places that we couldn't before," she said.
Ms Elnatan explained her inspiration for the invention was her own son.
"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'," she said.
"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 am delighted to see it come to fruition."
The Firefly team in Lisburn worked closely with Debby to design and manufacture the product for the international market.
A team of designers, engineers, textile experts and therapists have worked on the project since 2012.
Clare Canale, clinical research manager and occupational therapist with Firefly, said the product improved special needs family participation and quality of life, but research had indicated it had the potential to help with muscle strengthening, joint and cognitive development, as well as increasing bone mineral density in the longer term.