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 Article of Interest - Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Specially Designed Walker Brings Hope To Young Cerebral Palsy Victims
by Lori Lyle,, 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 impossible.

"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 crawling.

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 promises."

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 walking independently.

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 years.

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," Brenda says.

Willie seemed to take to the walker immediately, standing tall and shooting a basketball from a position he could only dream of before.

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 to follow.

"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 mom."

And as Willie put it, "Oh mom, it feels good to be walking by myself."

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.

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