Walking miracle device brings joy to disabled children around the world - meet the Firefly Upsee
Published 16/04/2014 | 11:55
An amazing invention from Northern Ireland that helps disabled children to walk and dance sold more than 1,000 examples on the first night it went on sale, it can be revealed.
The Firefly Upsee harness has become a global sensation since it was launched online on April 7.
Built by Leckey, a company in Lisburn, it has helped children from around the world, including the UK, Germany and America, take their first steps.
The demand for the harness has rocketed and caught the attention and imagination of families and the public.
When it was launched, the website crashed due to the demand.
Within a week the company had sold 1,600, and the Firefly website had received 300,000 visitors.
Costing £260, it has generated more than £400,000 in sales already, with orders for the product spanning 54 countries.
Celebrities including former Star Trek actor George Takei (right) have also tweeted about the life-changing device.
And parents have been posting videos of their children using it for the first time on social networking sites.
One video on YouTube featuring a little girl dancing with her mother for the first time has been viewed almost 18,000 times.
US chat show host and comedienne Ellen Degeneres (above) has also mentioned the product it in her blog.
And the Upsee has hit the headlines in television programmes in the Republic, UK, USA, Israel, Australia and Germany.
The Upsee involves a harness for the child – which attaches to the adult's belt – and specially-engineered sandals.
This allows the parent and child to step simultaneously and leaves their hands free for play and other tasks.
Stacy Warden, a mother from Colorado, was among 20 families who tested with her five-year-old son Noah for a pilot programme.
Noah has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, but she said that the device had, quite simply, changed her family's life.
"He laughs and giggles, something he doesn't do with other walking devices, which he sees as work," she said.
"I'm amazed at what this has done for both of us."
Inventor Debby Elnatan, a music therapist who was inspired to develop the product by her son Rotem, said she was overwhelmed by the massive response to her invention.
Her son has cerebral palsy and she was told he would never be able to walk.
The Firefly team in Lisburn worked closely with her 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.
Debby said: "I am thrilled, excited and fascinated all at the same time. The response of the Press to the story was immediate and powerful," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"They understood the importance of the product to change lives."
She added: "The parents also caught on to its importance immediately and I personally, and Firefly, have been showered with thanks and blessings from parents around the world, and this is so emotional."
She described feeling "unbelievable" when she witnesses her invention helping children all over the world to walk and dance.
"My hope is it will be used by children all over the world to give our children a better childhood," she added.
James Leckey, CEO and founder of Leckey, said he was delighted with the response to the Upsee.
"We had a sense how big it would be. The demand was massive.
"We had extra servers laid on and everything ready to go.
"Ultimately, we tried to cope the best we could, and it has been running well ever since."
'First fishing trip was so emotional'
Five-year-old Jack McCrystal from Draperstown is wheelchair-bound.
But thanks to the Upsee he has been able to fish for the first time with his dad Ronan, and also kick a football.
His condition is still undiagnosed but he suffers from severe scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.
And his mother Maura said at first she didn't think the harness would work because of a brace he has to wear to support his spine, but she said the invention had helped to transform their lives.
"It has been world-changing for Jack and us as a family," she said.
"We have been able to do things that we haven't been able to do before."
The day spent fishing in Portrush was particularly special.
"Because Jack is the youngest of four boys we have done that stuff, but to be able to just go in and buy the fishing net and plan round that what we were going to do that day with Jack, it was very overwhelming.
"There were a few tears shed as well.
"You just never expected that this was something he was going to be able to do because you can't take a wheelchair over that rough terrain.
"His dad was able to walk him across and Jack was splashing in the water. He just loved it – we all loved it.
"Jack was able to kick a football for the first time and bounce a basketball with his older brother Ryan.
"It sounds so normal, but for us it is unreal.
"Whenever you are out with Jack in the wheelchair everybody just realises straight away 'there is a kid with special needs'.
"There is an element of sympathy and empathy, but whenever he is in the Upsee there is more excitement. People stop us and talk, but they are not asking questions why he is in the wheelchair.
"It is also just creating awareness.
"The day we were in Portrush two elderly gentlemen stopped to talk to us. They had seen it on the TV and said they had thought it was the most amazing thing.
"And when Jack comes in from school you just have to hide it. He has just taken to it.
"It has opened up a whole new world for us."