Written by Bella Dalima
19 Apr, 2014 | 7:11 pm
There was a hush of anticipation as the crowd turned to see the girl in the flowing white dress. As she entered the church with an infectious grin, onlookers gasped and wiped tears from their eyes.
It wasn’t the bride they were so happy to see, but four-year-old Bella: the little bridesmaid they never thought they’d see walk down the aisle.
Bella Luckett has cerebral palsy and cannot stand unaided, let alone walk. But she was able to glide down the aisle with her head held high — all thanks to a groundbreaking new harness which attached her to her father, Gary, allowing Bella to take her first steps alongside her dad.
The moment was particularly precious for Gary, 29, who admits to battling with his emotions: ‘I didn’t want to cry in front of the photographers,’ he laughs. ‘But I’m away a lot with work and her mum’s her full-time carer, really, so it was great for me to share this special moment with Bella.’
As for her mum, Natalie, also 29, there was no such restraint. She says she ‘burst into tears’ at the sight of her daughter standing upright for the first time.
‘I was so nervous,’ says Natalie. ‘Before I saw Bella, I noticed my mum in floods of tears: she was further back and could see her before I did.
‘Bella was giggling and smiling as if to say: “Everyone’s looking at me!” I couldn’t help myself; I burst into tears. Gary didn’t cry but he looked very emotional.’
Bella was so distracted by the novelty of walking she forgot to scatter the tulip petals she was carrying.
‘She reached the altar and shouted: “I’ve still got my flowers!”’ says Natalie.
The congregation’s tears turned to laughter as she quickly threw them up into the air all at once.
Gary’s sister Louise asked Bella to be a bridesmaid when she announced her engagement two years ago. At that point they had no idea whether she’d be able to walk, or would have to be carried down the aisle.
It wasn’t looking good, with Bella still unable to stand or even sit up properly in the lead-up to the wedding. Then her parents came across the Upsee, a revolutionary device that helps disabled children become mobile.
News of the incredible garment had been spreading on social networking sites. Such was the demand when online sales began on April 7 that the company’s website crashed.
Designed by the mother of a disabled child, the £269 Upsee resembles a waistcoat with lots of straps.
The simple-looking garment has three parts: an adjustable waistband with back support worn by the adult; a child’s vest, the bottom of which surrounds their pelvis, with padded straps which loop round the top of the child’s legs — these two are connected by four straps which clip together at the child’s shoulder and lower back on both sides.
The third component is the ‘double sandal’, in which the adult’s shoe is joined to that of the child. These enable the adult to lift the child’s foot with each step.
It takes practice to get the hang of it: some children may only be able to stand for short amounts of time at first.
‘The first time I tried it on with Bella, she loved it,’ says Natalie. ‘She asked: “Can we walk down the stairs, Mummy?” Of course that was far too dangerous, but it showed how keen she was to get moving.’
Bella was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an umbrella term for loss or impairment of motor function caused by brain damage before, during or immediately after birth.
‘We’d been on edge throughout the pregnancy because I’d had three miscarriages,’ says Natalie, who also has a nine-year-old son, Ollie. ‘Bella was born three weeks early, weighing 5lb 3oz. She didn’t breathe for the first two minutes, then the doctor tickled her feet and she started crying.’
There was no cause for concern at this point. They were kept in hospital for 48 hours before returning to their home in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, where Bella seemed to flourish.’
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