Mom invents device to help her son walk

Upsee, the device has enabled kids with mobility impairments to stand and hug their sister or brother for the first time.

Stav Dimitropoulos

 Israeli female inventor Debby Elnatan took the world of motor impairment by storm when she came up with mobility device Firefly Upsee in 2014. Upsee is designed to help children with neuromuscular disorders stand and walk with an adult’s support.

Two years after its launch, the device has enabled kids with mobility impairments to stand and hug their sister or brother for the first time; to wave at neighbors on their first ever walk along their own street; to cross the playground hand-in-hand with their best friend for the very first time.

In a nutshell, Elnatan’s invention has enabled children with motor disabilities to stave off isolation and home-boundedness, taking a sip of the simple, everyday moments of life that are usually the building blocks of a life sweetly lived.

Rotem Lives the World Upright and Debby Invents Upsee

But, what is unique in Debby Elnatan’s case, is that she is neither a post-PhD in engineering nor a luminary of a highly specialized technical realm—Elnatan teaches music to children with developmental delays. She picked up the “tools of the trade” growing up by the side of a crafty father, watching the handiwork of a man with a great mastery in using his hands and constructing things out of thin air.

And by dint of her desire to see her middle son, Rotem, who suffers from cerebral palsy, live and enjoy the world upright,”…standing, sitting, squatting like the rest of us,” Elnatan, who was originally born in Syracuse, New York, says.


“When Rotem was two, doctors told me he did not know what his legs were,” she reminisces. That doctors were matter-of-fact when discussing Rotem’s condition did not deter the mother of three from offering her middle child more than just standing in a conventional stander.

Elnatan embarked on a journey of relentless experimentation with a device that would enable Rotem to live the world upright. She observed physiotherapists, had classes with teachers of the Alexander Technique method, studied all rehabilitation literature available, corresponded with some of the best physiotherapists around the world, and did what ran in her blood: use the trial-and-error method to build a device that would ultimately allow her and Rotem to walk together. The end result of the collective efforts between Rotem and Debby was an upright mobility device that puts you on your feet, Upsee.


“When Rotem was two, I was bending over to stand him upright, to find a way to attach him to me…At one point I got him on Upsee…After a few minutes he collapsed. We redoubled our efforts. I let Rotem know that if he wanted to enjoy the Upsee he would need to bear his own weight. The few minutes on Upsee became few hours and few kilometers, and by the end of the year he knew what his legs were,” Elnatan narrates.



Upsee Takes off and Paves the Way for Stand Up and Walk

Technically, Upsee is a device which comprises a belt that goes around an adult’s hips, a harness for the child, which attaches to a belt worn by an adult, and specially-engineered sandals that allow the adult and child to walk together, leaving their hands free for play and other tasks. It is typically recommended for children aged one through eight. Upsee quickly caught the eye of a Northern Irish company with a track record of producing equipment for children with special needs. The company took Elnatan’s invention and sold it through a brand called Firefly. Successful trials in Israel and the followed, and Firefly Upsee was eventually rolled out worldwide.

After Upsee’s initial success, and interviews on the BBC, Independent, People and others, Elnatan has been clocking her overtime with eager abandon. It’s taken her eight years of work, but the self-taught inventor is ready to strike again. Stand Up and Walk, her new invention, is ready to bring rehabilitation equipment to a whole new level, uniting a Gait trainer, a self-powered sit to stand trainer, a wheelchair and a passive stander in one machine.

“Stand Up and Walk brings the therapist’s hands home, enabling practice of the therapy protocol anywhere, anytime,” says Elnatan. The device provides unlimited, repetitive, self-powered walking, standing, sit to stand, stand to sit, squatting, enabling active learning and progress without muscle fatigue that comes with gait trainers and vertical effort. “It also facilitates to a great extent caretaking by eliminating strenuous transfers between devices, plus requiring no special skills,” she says from Jerusalem, giving a dynamite presentation of her new innovation, face lighting up, voice cracking with emotion and enthusiasm.


“There Are No People with Special Needs. We All Have the Same Needs”


It is this fervent drive that has helped her enrich the lives of people with motor impairments, as, following the launch of Upsee, she went on to invent ten more mobility devices—she is bent on commercializing them now. A drive intensified by the beaming smile on Rotem’s face, who is now 21 and full of dreams and skills. He loves music, speaks Hebrew , English, some Arabic and Tagalog, and crowds are shimmying at parties where he is the DJ!

“I just trusted my intuitions”, Elnatan is quick to add. “I wanted my son to have a protected childhood, but without losing the meaning of what it means to be a child, failing to explore and experience the outer world, just because he had “special needs”. There are no people with special needs, we all have the same needs.

Stav Dimitropoulos is a journalist and writer who has appeared on CBC, CBS Radio and FOX Channel, and has written for In The Fray, YourTango, Gadgette and many more. Facebook | Twitter: @TheyCallMeStav

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