An invention by an Israeli mother whose son has cerebral palsy can soon help children with motor impairment around the world take their first steps.
When Debby Elnatan’s son, Rotem, was two, she desperately wanted him to be able to explore the world like other toddlers. In her determination to get him on his feet, she invented a device now known as the "Firefly Upsee," which made it possible for them to walk together.
Now, with the help of a company in Northern Ireland, she is making her invention available globally.
The Upsee enables small children and infants to walk with the support of a grown-up. The device is comprised of a harness, worn by the child, which is attached to a belt worn by an adult. The pair wear specially-engineered sandals that enable them take steps together, while their hands are left free for other tasks.
When Rotem was a toddler he spent much of his time seated, said the music therapist who lives in Jerusalem. “I was told by medical professionals that he didn’t know what his legs were for. That was an incredibly difficult thing for a mother to hear. I walked him day after day, which was physically very difficult for both of us.” It was around then that Elnatan came up with the idea for Upsee.
The two used the harness until Rotem was seven years old - he is 19 today – and it went through various incarnations until Elnatan perfected it.
“At first it was very primitive,” she told Haaretz via email. “I just strapped our feet together and put a strap around his underarms and held onto it.” Later she designed wooden sandals, and eventually double-sandals, that were a prototype of the ones in today’s Upsee.
The first time they used it, “He took three steps and then collapsed into the harness.” By the end of the year, however, they could walk for up to two hours, even heading out of the house to visit friends or go to the store.
Elnatan looked for a company that could market the harness around the globe, and ended up partnering with Leckey in Northern Ireland, which specializes in products that help children with special needs improve posture.
Elnatan and Leckey have been working on the project since 2012, and the Upsee, has been trialled with families in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada and will be available for purchase starting in April.
One of the people to test it out was Stacy Warden from Colorado, whose five-year-old Noah has cerebral palsy. “In the short time we’ve been using (the Upsee), it has made a huge difference to our family,” she says. “It allows us to do so many things and go so many places that we couldn’t before.
More than anything, Elnatan hopes the Upsee will give children who have difficulty walking the same access to the world as other children.
“The Upsee was one of my many special solutions for Rotem, who as a preschool child deserved to get out of his carriage in order to explore the world around him like any other child. I hope that many other children around the world will benefit from my efforts.”