In 1996, the Whitfield family of Allambie in Sydney were told about the Walker by a doctor who had seen it while visiting in the UK. Peter and Sophia Whitfield's son Luke, then four, was born with cerebral palsy and they were determined to help him in any way they could.
The family travelled to England in 1996, for Luke to be fitted with The Hart Walker. Not only did Luke experience walking for the first time in his life, but his general health also dramatically improved. The family was so impressed with the results and the positive impact on Luke's life, they wanted as many children as possible to benefit from the Walker. They approached The Spastic Centre of NSW to raise funds and start The David Hart Walker Program in Sydney. The Children's Mobility Program incorporating the Hart Walker was established in November 1996 by The Spastic Centre of New South Wales and was granted the Australian licence by David Hart.
In February 1997, in response to the Whitfield family's request, The Spastic Centre sent five children, accompanied by their parents, an orthotist and a physiotherapist, to England to be fitted with the Hart Walker. The therapists were trained personally by David Hart, in the fitting and ongoing care, training and monitoring of these young children as they develop and grow. In February 1998 The Spastic Centre sent another Orthotist and Physiotherapist to England for training to prepare the program for the increasing demand. The Spastic Centre's trained staff are authorised by David Hart to train physiotherapists and orthotists to fit and maintain walkers around Australia, making it possible to have teams trained in every state.
As of December 2005, more than 700 Australian children have been fitted with a Hart Walker. There are children enjoying its benefits in every state and territory of Australia. The demand for the Walker is constant, because as more children are fitted, word spreads about the Walker's benefits, and new children are added to the list for assessment. The Walkers are imported in kit form from Canada.
WHICH CHILDREN BENEFIT FROM THE HART WALKER?
Most children with cerebral palsy or similar disabilities will be suitable for a Hart Walker. Although they need to fulfil the following criteria;
have a maximum instep to hip length of 72cm (for initial fitting);
have a consistent stepping pattern when supported;
have a family that is committed to help the child reach their full potential.
Referral may be made by a parent or other agent acting on behalf of the parents and with their written permission.
Entry into the program will be based on an assessment by a trained orthotist and physiotherapist. Suggestions for other forms of walking devices will be given if the Hart Walker is found to be inappropriate.
At the initial visit, detailed measurements and video footage will be taken and a physiotherapist's assessment will be carried out. The Walker will then be cut to size and assembled to suit the child's individual specifications.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD IS FITTED?
Once the child is fitted in the Walker, the child and family/carer undergo training on how to place the child in the Walker and how to use the Walker. Ongoing monitoring and review is essential to ensure the child benefits from the device.
Monitoring and Review
Once a child is using the device, it is essential to monitor their progress and to make any necessary ongoing adjustments as their strength and muscle control develops. Any support that the child no longer needs must be reduced or taken away before the child starts to rely upon such support unnecessarily.
Rarely is a child's progress in the Walker consistent; any rapid progress is usually followed by a period of slow progress which, to parents, may seem like no progress.
A comprehensive review will occur every 12 months to ensure the Hart Walker is the most appropriate walking device for the child. Video footage will also be used to continually assess the child's progress. This will be particularly important for children living outside the Sydney Metropolitan Area.
The equipment is not magical and will not make a child walk. Establishing an efficient walking pattern with full body co-ordination and balance takes a lot of hard work, a great deal of time and an ongoing, positive commitment from the child's parents. The Walker and The Spastic Centre's input is only a small part of what must be a team effort to help and encourage a child to make progress
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