29.11.2022

Boy, two, plays in the sea for the first time thanks to specialised wheelchair

A two-year-old boy with cerebral palsy has been able to go into the sea for the first time thanks to a specialised wheelchair. Heartwarming footage shows Joey Leathwood, from Sheffield, giggling in the waves at Skegness Beach in Lincolnshire on Friday.

He usually doesn’t enjoy going to the seaside because he struggles with how the sand feels on his body — although he loves water.

Cerebral palsy can cause hypersensitivity, which make certain textures, noises or crowded spaces feel overwhelming. It also causes tight and stiff muscles, making walking extremely difficult.

But Joey was able to play with his brother Connor, 11, and Maisie, eight, in the sea for the first time ‘instead of feeling left out and different’, his mother said.

It was possible thanks to an off-road, water-resistant wheelchair rented to them for free by a local charity.

The wheelchair, worth more than £3,200, comes with a headrest and harness to help those with conditions affecting their movement, including cerebral palsy, sit upright.

And it has large, heavy-duty plastic ‘balloon’ wheels that glide along the top of sand and can go in water without getting stuck.

Heartwarming footage shows Joey Leathwood, from Sheffield, giggling in the waves at Skegness Beach in Lincolnshire on Friday

In the video, a wave comes tumbling into the beach as Joey kicks back his head in laughter. Another one comes in, gently rocking the chair and the boy shrieks in delight as his mother laughs behind the camera and his father smiles down at him

WHAT IS CEREBRAL PALSY?

Cerebral palsy is the name for a set of conditions affecting movement and co-ordination stemming from a problem with the brain that takes place before, during or soon after birth.

Symptoms are not typically obvious immediately after a child is born — but instead normally become noticeable after two or three years.

They include delays in reaching development milestones, such as:

not sitting by eight months;
not walking by 18 months;
appearing too stiff or too floppy;
walking on tip-toes;
weak arms or legs;
fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements;
random, uncontrolled movements;

Difficulty speaking, swallowing or seeing — along with learning difficulties — can also be symptoms.

Cerebral palsy symptoms can be caused by a number of things and are not necessarily an indication of the condition, which can occur if a child’s brain does not develop normally while in the womb, or is damaged during or soon after birth.

Causes include bleeding in the baby’s brain, reduced blood and oxygen supply, infection caught by the mother while pregnant, asphyxiation during a difficult birth, meningitis or a serious head injury — though the precise cause is often not clear.

There is no cure currently, but physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and medication are often used as treatment.

Each person living with the condition is affected in a different way, but generally speaking most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades.

It was provided by BeachAbility, a local charity founded in 2012 by Sharon Gray, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and donated the first wheelchair.

Speaking today, Joey’s mother Helen, 34, who cares for him full time, said: ‘He is unable to do anything for himself and has massive sensory issues.

‘He doesn’t like certain textures, such as grass, sand, snow, and fluffy things, so we normally avoid the beach as he will make himself sick if he can’t process a feeling and he just ends up stuck in his pushchair far away from the sea.

‘With him being unable to sit up it’s impossible to play with my other kids and have Joey be part of it until we hired the Hippocampe beach wheelchair from BeachAbility.’

In the video, a wave comes tumbling into the beach as Joey kicks back his head in laughter.

Another one comes in, gently rocking the chair and the boy shrieks in delight as his mother laughs behind the camera and his father Tom, 37, a welder, smiles down at him.

He was in the Hippocampe beach wheelchair, made by French manufacturer Vipamat.

The 17kg (37lb) wheelchairs have a stainless steel frame that does not get corroded by water.

It has multiple wheel options, with the balloon wheels on Joey’s model specially designed for fine sand.

They can also be fitted with skis in place of the wheels for fun in the snow.

Ms Butterfield said: ‘It gave him the body support he needed, and it was so easy to push over the sand and of course go into the water. It was also a good barrier for him to not have to touch any sand.

‘He was able to be just as happy and part of the day with his brother and sister, he loved watching the waves splashing over the top of the chair but still felt safe.

‘I honestly can’t praise the group enough and wish there had been equipment like this available years ago as it would have helped so many people.’

Cerebral palsy is the name for a set of conditions affecting movement and co-ordination stemming from a problem with the brain that takes place before, during or soon after birth.

Symptoms are not typically obvious immediately after a child is born, normally becoming noticeable after two or three years.

They include not sitting by eight months, not walking by 18 months and appearing too stiff or too floppy.

There is no cure currently, but physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and medication are often used as treatment.

Each person living with the condition is affected in a different way, but generally speaking most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades.

Sharing the video of her son’s trip in a Facebook group on Friday, Ms Butterfield said: ‘For anybody that lives with disabilities themselves or loved ones, please give BeachAbility Ingoldmells Beach Wheelchairs a try.

‘My boy loves water so much and although he can’t support his body enough to sit unaided, today he went in the sea for the first time at nearly three years old and honestly he has never laughed so much.

‘This group has given so many people of all ages the chance to be «beside the seaside» and I can’t thank them enough.

‘It’s given my boy the chance to experience waves and Mother Nature’s beauty instead of feeling left out and different.’

BeachAbility was founded in 2012 by Sharon Gray who was diagnosed with Motor-Neurone Disease and was the first to donate a wheelchair to the charity

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