Specially Designed Walker Brings
Hope To Young Cerebral Palsy Victims
by Lori Lyle, wave3.com, May 2003
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Children with cerebral palsy often rely on walkers and
wheelchairs to get around since their small bodies just aren't
strong enough to give appropriate support. Now there's a device
that's paving the way for what could be a remarkable journey for
thousands to follow. Lori Lyle reports.
A recent Friday night jam session at the Burtons found the
family singing praises for promises being fulfilled. Soon,
7-year-old Willie Burton will begin a journey once believed
"We started him in physical therapy when he was one year old,"
recalls Willie's mom, Brenda. "And that's when we started
hearing the term, 'cerebral palsy.'"
The Burtons adopted Willie at birth. It was a time filled both
with joy and uncertainty about Willie's future. "The doctors
never thought he would get up out of a wheelchair, Brenda says.
With little Willie still in the hospital, suffering from
bleeding on the brain, Brenda remembers asking God for a sign.
"I just said, 'Lord, you know his future ... I'm asking you to
put him in a green outfit tomorrow .... And I saw that green
outfit the next day," Brenda says. "And I thought, 'oh these
doctors are wrong, he's going to be normal.' Then, of course, as
he got older we realized he wasn't normal."
Willie's cerebral palsy means a wheelchair has been a
frustrating necessity in his life. On the playground, in the
classroom -- everywhere -- it's a constant confinement.
He's a rambunctious little boy locked in a body unable to
cooperate. "I can't go where my friends can."
"We're his support system," Willie's father, Larry, says. "If we
fail, he goes nowhere."
Determined to find the key to Willie's freedom, Larry searched
the Internet for answers. "And I punched in Walker, and all
these sites showed H-A-R-T -- Hart Walker."
Developed in England, the Hart Walker is designed to help
children build muscles they've never before used.
The walker became available in the U.S. just this past year.
Watching a videotape of other children like Willie using the
walker brought tears of happiness and hope to the Burton family.
In the video, children once unable to stand on their own are
shown standing upright, some not even using braces.
The closest clinic in the U.S. with Hart Walkers is in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, so the Burtons headed to the Sunshine
State, chasing down a miracle promised years ago. Fort
Lauderdale is one of only three U.S. locations where Hart
Walkers are available.
"I believe that God is doing this as a testimony to Willie's
life," Brenda says. "
And they remain thankful for blessings already given: Willie has
already used a traditional walker to go from rolling to speed
The steps have been many, and the road behind has been tough,
but so far, all obstacles have been conquered.
And although the road ahead is still uncertain, it's still full
of promise, thanks to some super-human powers the Burtons like
to call prayer. "I think God is going to use Willie to show
people the power of prayer. And that he is faithful to his
It took three years for the Burtons to finally get Willie his
own Hart Walker, so you can imagine the excitement they felt as
Willie tried out his first set of Hart Walker wheels.
After arriving at the pediatric therapy ward of the Family Care
Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Willie was measured for his specially
fitted Hart Walker, measuring size as well as potential.
The Hart Walker is designed to both strengthen and teach since
children born with cerebral palsy have never felt normal gait.
The Burtons knew when adopting Willie that their steps would not
come easy. But through prayer and perseverance, four hip
surgeries and back surgery, they hold to the promise Brenda
remembers, and forge ahead for a miracle.
Each Hart Walker is child specific, and Willie spent the day at
the beach while his was being made. It was his first time to see
the ocean -- an awesome experience for any 7-year-old.
But imagine such an experience while taking your first steps to
Finally, Willie was strapped in and, at long last, standing
upright. The walker "keeps him totally upright so he is firing
muscles during the normal phase of gait that he probably has
never fired before," says Willie's physical therapist for six
Ramsay helps chart the course, mapping the possibilities.
"In a few months, we'll break it down to where he only has two
wheels," Ramsay says, "and then you give him time to gain his
trunk strength and his leg strength with the two wheels. And
then you break it down further."
"I anticipate him coming out of that walker, I really do,"
Willie seemed to take to the walker immediately, standing tall
and shooting a basketball from a position he could only dream of
Now, striving for that next goal, with one major score behind
them, the Burtons have cause to celebrate. "It took 3-1/2 years,
but we've done it. We've got a Hart Walker."
Larry Burton says the walker represents "answered prayers ...
it's been a long time coming -- from playing on the computer, to
its fruition here."
"Obviously, we're in this experiment together to see how well
Willie does," Ramsay says. "And then we've got a whole list of
other children we'd like to try it with."
"I have a list of names," Brenda says, "kids I rattle off to the
lord every night."
And therein lies the real reason the Burtons are sharing
Willie's story: hoping he is taking the first steps for so many
"Willie becoming more like a regular kid. He'll be able to do
more.. Pursue more of his dreams. He'll be more independent when
mom and dad aren't here anymore."
But he will no doubt always remember when they were there for
him, every step of the way. "As he was going down the hallway,
he was stopping," Jerry says, "looked back over his shoulder at
And as Willie put it, "Oh mom, it feels good to be walking by
Whether or not Willie eventually is able to walk on his own, the
Hart Walker may still prove effective by teaching him to stand
straighter. He'll breathe much easier and possibly lose that
little bit of a stutter.
Adjustments are made to the walker every three to six months,
which is why Jamie and the Cerebral Palsy Kids Center want to
bring the Hart Walker to Kentuckiana.