May 8 - A five-year-old boy previously unable to walk has taken his first steps, thanks to a simple new walking harness which its designers believe will transform the lives of disabled children world-wide. Jim Drury paid Jack McCrystal and his family a visit.
Until recently five-year-old Jack McCrystal was confined to a wheelchair. But now, thanks to the Upsee harness, he's able to help dad Ronan walk the family dog. Jack has a genetic condition that has rendered him unable to walk, speak or feed himself. But his mother Maura is determined to give Jack the opportunity to do the things his older brothers could do - and says the Upsee makes this possible. SOUNDBITE (English) MAURA McCRYSTAL, MOTHER OF UPSEE HARNESS USER JACK, SAYING: "It's really easy to use because it's just buckles and belts and a pair of sandals, so you have Jack in it within less than five minutes now and up and out." The Upsee has been designed and developed by Northern Irish manufacturer Leckey. CEO James Leckey says the device has three main components. SOUNDBITE (English) JAMES LECKEY, FOUNDER AND CEO OF LECKEY, MANUFACTURERS OF UPSEE, SAYING: "The waist belt that goes around the parent or the adult and carries the belts that take the weight of the child who's supported by the harness and the harness has the connecting straps that connects it to the adult....The sandals have to take the child's weight. They also have to leave it flexible enough, so you can feel them initiating the steps, so that's quite a key part of the design. " The firm thinks the product could improve the lives of thousands of children suffering from motor impairments. They believe it can help users' long-term physical and emotional development and say its beauty is its simplicity. SOUNDBITE (English) JAMES LECKEY, FOUNDER AND CEO OF LECKEY, MANUFACTURERS OF UPSEE, SAYING: "It's very intuitive. We liken it to walking on your parents feet when you were a child." And it's certainly working for Jack. He can now go fishing with his Dad - and even play football. SOUNDBITE (English) RONAN McCRYSTAL, FATHER OF UPSEE HARNESS USER JACK, AS THEY KICK A BALL, SAYING: "It's just opened up a whole new world for us. We can get out there playing with footballs, the likes of what we're doing here and just lets us go out with Jack as a normal five year old boy. He just really enjoys it." Although eventually Jack will become too big to wear the Upsee his parents are grateful he currently has a measure of independence. They say it's also changed people's attitudes towards him. SOUNDBITE (English) MAURA McCRYSTAL, MOTHER OF UPSEE HARNESS USER JACK, SAYING: "Quite recently we had four gentlemen had come up and spoke to us and had talked to Jack as well. Before when he was in the wheelchair he was just seen as a kid with special needs and I think people were actually afraid to come and speak to us. " The Upsee went on sale last month. At nearly 500 dollars per unit it's not cheap but it's helping children like Jack take life in their stride.