Touchstone Story #76–Freedom to Move
Lions in Australia and New Zealand are giving children with cerebral palsy—who are often confined to wheelchairs—a chance to stand on their own and to experience walking for the first time in their lives with a specialized piece of equipment known as the Hart Walker.
“The first time I saw a child with disabilities empowered by the Hart Walker, my heart nearly melted,” said International President Barry J. Palmer, an Australian who served from 2013 to 2014. “I feel the same way every single time I see children take their first steps in a Hart Walker.”
Developed in Britain in 1989 and refined through subsequent models, the Hart Walker has four wheels, a frame and complex bracing at the hips, knees and ankles that allow children who normally use wheelchairs to stand and propel themselves forward.
The new freedom of movement strengthens children’s underused muscles and lungs and boosts their confidence. But the walker is expensive, so Lions in Australia and New Zealand got to work bringing these amazing walkers at no cost to their families.
Children with mobility challenges can “walk with their mates, hold hands, they’re able to run,” said Cindy Shaw, an Australian whose quadriplegic son Adam received a walker from the Lions. “He feels very strong, and that he can do anything.”
Australian Lions have made the Hart Walker one of their signature programs. Since establishing the Australian Lions Children’s Mobility Foundation in 1999, Australian Lions have fitted more than 1,900 children with the walking devices. Palmer was a driving force in that effort.
In his inaugural address at the 2013 Lions Clubs International Convention in Hamburg, Germany, he told the audience how at a club in Australia he watched the moment a girl was put into a Hart Walker. “She smiles at us, gets this look of determination, then … she is walking.” The device had “changed her life.”
Similarly, in New Zealand, Lions have donated Hart Walkers to help many children. In the spring of 2009, then International President Al Brandel was visiting Wellington, New Zealand, and met 7-year-old Alyssa McCarty as she was being measured for adjustments to her Hart Walker. The retired New York City police detective sat on the floor for an extended chat with the girl and saw her stand. It was a moving experience, he said.
Later that year at the 2009 International Convention in Minneapolis, Multiple District 202 of New Zealand was recognized for its work with the Hart Walkers by receiving the Best District Service Project award at the International Hero Awards ceremony.
With the help of Lions, children once confined to wheelchairs can stand up, look their friends in the eye and join in the fun.
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