The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes cerebral palsy as a neurological disorder that permanently affects body movement and coordination because of abnormalities in the parts of the brain that control muscle movements. One of the most common signs of the condition is trouble walking, including walking with one foot or leg dragging, walking on the toes, a crouched gait or too stiff or too “floppy” muscles.
While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, a new mechanical device is offering hope that affected children can better learn how to walk. The new device, similar to a baby walker, is composed of a harness and leg braces. By attaching the harness and leg braces to a hoist in the back of the device, a child with cerebral palsy is lifted into a standing position more suitable for walking. As the child takes steps, the device moves along too, providing necessary support. Before, the only way that many children with cerebral palsy could walk was with the aid of a parent holding them up from behind–now, the device seems to have taken that roll–a permanent “helper” of sorts.
Children from six families in San Antonio, TX will be fitted with the device this week at MK Prosthetic and Orthotic Services. The device is fitted for each individual child, custom-built to each child’s particular shape and size. While the device isn’t the first of its kind, it is the first built to “grow” with the child and it’s portable–it can fold up and be placed in a car. Furthermore, the device has no fancy electronics, just good engineering. However, Mark Kirchner, the head of MK Prosthetic and Orthotic Services is impressed with the results of the device: he is amazed at the attitude change in children with cerebral palsy who are able to finally walk on their own without the aid of a therapist, parent, or caregiver. He recently stated:
Your body functions better when it’s upright. We notice, too, that you get a different reaction out of a lot of these kids. When you can get them up at your level, their attitudes change from always being in a chair and people looking down on them.