28 August 2009


Footsteps therapy uses trampolines to help get confidence back
Tuesday August 25,2009
Minty Hoyer Millar, 17, who has cerebral palsy, has become mobile with the aid of a strange device called the spider. Her mother Pip, 49, tells her story

Minty was my fourth child so I was aware she was not progressing as she should. I saw she was struggling to achieve the usual baby and toddler milestones. At 12 months she was assessed and we were told she was physically and mentally handicapped and would never achieve beyond the capabilities of a four–year-old. I was devastated.

Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong. Cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting balance and movement was confirmed when Minty was 22 months old. I learned it leaves sufferers with little or no mobility. We were told we’d have to wait more than a year to see an NHS physiotherapist. I researched the condition to see what other help was available but it became clear we would have to do all the work to make sure she had the best life possible.

‘It gives kids a confidence boost'

As Minty got older she was very floppy. By the time she was nine she could only crawl. She couldn’t stand, had no balance and very little speech.

I felt sad when I looked at her. I wanted her to be part of everything but she couldn’t. It was frustrating and upsetting because I knew from day one that she could achieve much more. With three other children, William now 22, Thomas, 20, and Henry, 19, we just had get on with it.

I spent my spare time finding out more about treatments around the world. I heard about a therapy called Footsteps in the city of Koszalin, north-west Poland. It uses exercises that focus on improving movements such as rolling over, supporting, reaching, grasping and holding.

It also teaches patients to shift their body weight and move from one place to another, enabling greater mobility and independence and encouraging increased self-confidence. All sorts of apparatus including balls, rolls, trampolines and ladders are used. We begain travelling to Poland every other month and after a year Minty was more mobile and happier.

There we discovered a device called the spider. It is a frame with bungee ropes attached which holds the child in place while physiotherapists work on improving their muscle strength and posture. It looks like a giant spider’s web.

By supporting Minty in an upright position it allowed her to move independently. Therapists could put her body through various exercises in different positions so it could be aligned properly. This helped develop her balance. It was great fun and she enjoyed it a lot.

With it she learned to stand independently and walk a little bit. Stimulating so many different muscle groups even helped her speech.

I couldn’t help thinking it was a huge shame that so many others in the UK were missing out on the opportunity Minty had. Then in 2004, when Minty was 12, my husband Christian suggested we set up our own Footsteps centre in an outbuilding at our home in South Warborough, Oxfordshire, so that others could use the spider. I was excited about the idea. Eventually we persuaded two amazing physiotherapists Filip and Gosia to come over from Poland to work with us.

When children use the spider it can be the first time they have stood upright. It gives them a huge confidence boost and the therapists can try lots of exercises with them.

They have a new sense of freedom. The spider helps with stability and balance and the children love playing games like catching balls while using it.

Last year we set up the Footsteps Foundation charity to help families who can’t afford the treatment, which costs about £1,800 for a three-week course.

W e’ve raised more than £110,000 to date and have been thrilled to send out grants to families who would otherwise have not been able to come to us. Minty is now walking independently and is very social. Her speech is fantastic. She’s a delight and very much a teenager. She still spends four afternoons a week on the spider. It might have been hard in the beginning but once she realised how much progress she was making her motivation and determination kept her going and she’s achieved so much.

l For more information call the Footsteps centre on 01865 858 382/065 or visit footsteps.ltd.uk

l For the Footsteps Foundation charity www.footstepsfoundation.com

Interview by PENNY STRETTONDR ALISON STEWART is an Edinburgh-based GP with an interest in cerebral palsy. She says: Cerebral palsy is the name given to a group of conditions that cause movement problems. The most common type leads to stiff or rigid muscles in the limbs and can range from mild to severe. It results from damage to the brain usually before birth or from an incorrectly developed brain.

It affects about one in 400 people. Physiotherapy is the prime technique for treating cerebral palsy. It prevents muscle weakness and enhances walking and standing. Anything that improves movement and motor skills and helps to enhance a person’s life is beneficial.

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