Belfast Telegraph

Firefly Upsee: The revolution sparked by one mother's desire to see her girl walk

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

IT began as one woman's idea to help her child with cerebral palsy feel the sensation of walking.

And now the Firefly Upsee harness, built by a Northern Ireland company, is helping thousands of children take miracle steps around the world.

Images of little Charlotte Taylor from Manchester wearing the invention as she walked with her dad appeared in the Belfast Telegraph at the end of March.

Later featuring in national newspapers, the heartwarming pictures of two-year-old Charlotte and two other children were beamed across the world.

It was the first time the public had seen the invention, which enables parents to help children become mobile.

The images struck a deep chord with families of children with special needs – especially those with muscular problems such as cerebral palsy.

Within a short time, the pictures and stories went viral. Television channels, newspapers and websites around the globe reported on the pioneering product.

Since then, an avalanche of photos has descended on social networking sites, the latest snaps being those of four-year-old Isabella Luckett from England who, despite having cerebral palsy, was able to be a flower girl unaided.

Videos of children and their parents using the Upsee have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

Among them are Taylor Florence and her mother Dana from America, who are filmed dancing for the first time.

Such was the escalating demand when online sales officially began on April 7 that the website initially crashed under the pressure.

Inventor Debby Elnatan has spoken of how she is reduced to tears when she watches how the device has helped parents.

"I am crying when I see how parents use the Upsee to fill in a big void in their life and when I see the happiness that it brings to the parents and the children," she said.

"The mother who danced in her Upsee and said the hardest part was losing herself. I can relate to this sentence. We often forget what makes us happy. If the Upsee will help families be happier, then I have done my job."

In the wake of the publicity James Leckey (below), CEO of manufacturing company Leckey, said he knew the first time he saw the product that it had great potential.

"I spoke to Debby in 2001, I spoke to her in 2007 and then in 2010 we said we are going to have to do this.

"We worked very hard for two years to develop it.

"When I saw this product I realised it was something completely new. It wasn't just a seating system that can help kids sit and stand – all those things are incredibly important for children with special needs."

Mr Leckey, who founded the company 30 years ago, said he believes it can help many children and their parents.

"We understood the family unit is heavily affected by having one or more child with disabilities. There is a lot of sibling compromise and relationship issues.

"I haven't met a family who aren't amazing, but the children do need special attention and they get that.

"But it is a challenge, and their lives are compromised in terms of the freedom they have and the things they can access.

"I saw this and thought it could liberate a lot of what they could do and normalise life. We are very proud to be involved with this idea –the response has been massive."

Flower girl takes her first steps down aisle

Little Isabella Luckett who has cerebral palsy was made to feel like a princess for the day, thanks to the Upsee.

The four-year-old's condition has left her legs undeveloped and she has to use a wheelchair.

But two years ago she was asked to be her aunt's flower girl at her wedding.

After hearing about the revolutionary harness, her parents Gary and Natalie Luckett contacted the company and asked if a special white one for the day was made for Isabella.

The harness was sewn into her dress and attached her to her father.

This allowed them to take the steps together and be part of the marriage ceremony between her aunt Louise and Jonathan Heathcote-Curtis.

Mrs Luckett (29), from Cambridgeshire, said the Upsee made her daughter feel like Cinderella.

"Bella's very shy but she told me she feels like a princess, like Cinderella," she told the Daily Mail.

"It was so much easier to use than we anticipated, it really was so much easier than we thought and Bella took to it straight away.

"She is such a happy little girl and you can see from her smile and from the pictures she did so well.'

Her aunt Louise described the moment as exciting for the family.

"We hoped that Bella would be able to take a few steps down the aisle by herself but unfortunately it seems as though she isn't going to walk independently at the moment. Gary had his heart set on walking down the aisle with Bella and as soon as we saw the Upsee advertised he was on a mission to find one.

"I didn't mind if Bella was carried or walks down the aisle, but I was really excited for her to be there."

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