Mum's tears as powered chair opens up new world to Ethan
A mum has told of her emotional reaction after her disabled child became one of the first in Northern Ireland to receive a state-of-the-art powered wheelchair for the under-fives.
Zoe Parks' two-year-old boy Ethan was born prematurely at 28 weeks and suffers from cerebral palsy, which causes mobility problems.
Instead of running and playing like other youngsters, Ethan was only able to crawl on the floor or had to rely on his parents to carry or push him around in a buggy.
With no healthcare funding for powered wheelchairs for young children, the Portadown woman and other parents from the Cerebral Palsy Northern Ireland Family Group asked English charity MERU - which makes life-changing products for children and young people with disabilities - to bring its specially-designed £5,000 Bugzi wheelchairs to the province.
Each is manufactured to be suitable for children from one to six, or up to 25kg in weight.
The first six powered wheelchairs arrived to be loaned to families last week, and Zoe hopes they will help Ethan and other kids experience the freedom of childhood.
"It brought tears to my eyes seeing the joy that the powered wheelchairs have brought to these children," she said.
"For most parents, it is the first time they've ever seen their child move independently. Ethan was so happy when he realised he was moving himself.
"Most babies sit and crawl at seven or eight months, but Ethan can only 'commando crawl' due to the cerebral palsy.
"He's a very happy and determined little boy who never gives up, despite the challenges.
"The NHS doesn't provide powered wheelchairs for very young kids, as they are deemed able to be carried or pushed in a buggy.
"But medical research shows children with disabilities derive huge medical benefits from being able to explore their environment. That's how children learn about cause and effect, and become more independent. The Bugzis help foster independence and social skills and make using wheelchairs in later life easier.
"It gives the kids freedom. I'd like to thank MERU for their amazing work."
MERU said: "The important thing is that these severely disabled children in Northern Ireland have the opportunity to use mobility as a motivation for choice, learn and experience movement, many for the very first time."