Lindsey Summers says she dreams of seeing her son walk.
Jacob, 19, with quadriplegic cerebral palsy that affects his arms and legs, uses a wheelchair.
But thanks to a new machine at his school, Jacob is able to move his legs for the first time.
“I have a dream that my son Jacob can walk and it’s exciting, but I see it coming true,” Lindsey said. “I think that’s the most important dream that I hope to achieve.”
“It’s a feeling he hadn’t been able to feel before,” she added.
Jacob, who is from Cardiff, UK, cannot sit unaided, so most of his movement usually comes from physiotherapy sessions.
“We were trying to do some things in the morning, just to get him to relax,” says Lindsey, describing ankle exercises and leg movements, which can be quite “not gentle.”
“It’s very stressful for the person doing it, so these exercises can only be done for a short time, especially as Jacob is now an adult,” she added.
“So when he has a machine that he can use for longer and it gives him a sense of walking that he’s never experienced before, he uses it and you can see the smile on his face.”
Asgoll and Derry School, a private school in Penarth, UK, for students aged 3-19 with autism and special educational and physical needs.
The school’s physiotherapists tested the Innowalk to see if it could help paralyzed students.
After eighteen months of using the device, pediatric physiotherapist Amelia Stubbs, 31, said she saw real and clear benefits for her students.
“They get up and do things they couldn’t do before,” she added.
“We notice that they are much happier when they come to physical therapy and they really enjoy working with us,” Stubbs said.
Lindsay says Jacob looks forward to his sessions: “He gets an endorphin rush when he’s in the car, so he’s in a much better mood.”
“He is happy and playful. He sleeps well when he uses the device. It helps him with personal care and bowel movements and relieves muscle pain. He really appreciates it.”
Sirin, 14, also enjoys using the device.
“It’s really cool. It’s fun if you have something fun to do with it,” she said.
The school’s technical assistant, Aaron Hawkswell, suggested the idea of integrating virtual reality headsets into the experience.
Using the children’s perspective, they tested a series of virtual reality videos to determine which provided the most realistic walking experience for users.
“The joy you see on the faces of some students who can’t speak, you just can’t put it into words,” Hawkswell said.
“Even we who have been here for a long time still have tears in our eyes. When we get home we think about it. It makes our day.”
The school decided to purchase two devices after seeing the positive results.
Principal Chris Britten said: “For us, we have to invest as much in the wellbeing of students as we do in their education.”
“When children are healthy and in a good place, they can learn, and that benefits all of us – and by that I mean our whole community, not just me, not just the teachers, but also the parents and families of the students .” he added.