Walker gets young brittle bone sufferers on their feet

Therapists and engineers join forces to invent new solution to increase mobility

The Sheffield Micro Walking Frame is the first dedicated mobility device for sufferers of brittle bone disease

Twenty children suffering from a serious bone condition have been helped back on their feet thanks to an innovative walker designed in Yorkshire.

Known as the Sheffield Micro Walking Frame, the device was created by therapy experts at The Children’s Hospital in Sheffield two years ago and is aimed at youngsters with brittle bone disease who struggle to use taller frames.

Developed by engineering graduates, Barry Tan and Lim Ji Hui, it was manufactured by Kingkraft with support from the National HealthcareTechnology Co-Operative, Devices for Dignity (D4D).

And, since it was first launched, it has been adopted by a number of specialist centres including Great Ormond Street Hospital and has helped to improve the mobility of at least 20 young people across the UK.

Liz Knowles, an occupational therapist at The Children’s Hospital, has been treating young people with brittle bone disease for 12 years as said some patients have thighs as short as 14cm and find existing walking frames unsuitable. She added: “None of the walkers were the right height for the first little boy who used our walker. He literally had never walked independently until the day he got the walker. When we tried him with the Micro Walking Frame, he was able to walk down the ward with some support from the physio. Within the week he was running with it!”

The walker is used alongside Pamidronate, a drug therapy designed specifically for children with brittle bone disease, or Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI). The genetic condition causes frequent breaks and loose joints, as well as short stature, spine deformities and difficulties with general life skills including walking. In many cases young children suffering from the disease are confined to an electric wheelchair to prevent fractures.

None of the walkers were the right height for the first little boy who used our walker. When we tried him with the Micro Walking Frame, he was able to walk down the ward with some support from the physio. Within the week he was running with it!

Treatment with Pamidronate means sufferers can become mobile more rapidly, but until the walker was created there was no frame specifically designed for them.

As a specialist centre treating the condition, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust treats more children with brittle bones than anywhere else in the UK and the therapists chose to collaborate locally to come up with the design.

The development was fully funded by the Children's Hospital Charity with a donation from the Yorkshire and West Riding Freemasons.

Now The Children’s Hospital has 15 frames in use and Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street have also adopted the innovation.

Dr Avril McCarthy, scientific and technology advisor at D4D, said: “The Children’s Hospital sets an excellent standard for specialist OI units across the world. We were proud to be involved in the development of this project by providing advice on the standards and stability of the walker, working alongside the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust clinical engineering department at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.”

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