Keep on kicking

Professor's invention helps babies move.

David Chapman

By Colby Johnson

The idea behind David Chapman’s recently patented stationary infant chair is relatively simple. Most infants tend to walk at age 1, while those with neuromuscular disorders such as spina bifida (SB) often don't walk until 3 or 4. Because previous research shows that infants who move their legs more tend to walk earlier, Chapman, an associate professor in St. Kate's Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, set out to get babies with SB kicking.

“Early leg movements and kicks are extremely important,” says Chapman, who joined St. Kate’s in 2009. “ The chair is specifically designed to provide support to infants while facilitating leg movements. The results have been astounding. “ We have found that babies with spina bifida move their legs up to 50 times more per minute when they’re in the chair than when they are lying down or in a typical infant seat,” he says. “I’ve been floored by the results.”

The 45-degree angle of the chair, composed of a seat and chest strap attached to a flat board, allows the infant’s legs to hang (and kick) freely — optimally for between five and 10 minutes, three to four times a day.

Since 2010, Chapman has traveled across Minnesota and North Dakota to test his chair on infants with SB. Kayla Sis DPT’14, Ann Engstrom DPT’14, Shannon Lucken DPT’14 and Sarah Wehrheim DPT’14 are collaborating with him on data reduction and evaluation. "They have done amazing work on the project, helping to brainstorm and generate creative ideas that have contributed greatly to the research,” he says.

Illustration of the chair.

Chapman is currently seeking a corporate partner to mass-produce the chairs and make them affordable for pediatric therapy clinics and families. He is also working on a modified version of the chair, with angles that can be adjusted as the child gets older. “In my dream world, I would love to see these chairs made available to every baby born with SB,” he says. “It’s pretty exciting that the chair could have such a dramatic impact on when a child walks.”

A break for at-risk kids

A $500,000 grant from the Better Way Foundation will enable St. Catherine University and Minnesota Partners Serving all Children (a program of the Montessori Center of Minnesota) to partner with Twin Cities nonprofits that serve diverse populations and have Montessori schools, including Centro Siembra, the Hmong American Partnership and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

St. Kate’s students in nursing, social work, occupational therapy, public health, the physician assistant program and Montessori education will see more experiential opportunities from this three-year grant.


“It’s very exciting,” says Linda Distad, chair of education programs. “I don’t know any other university doing what we are doing.”

Learn more about St. Kate’s history with Montessori education in “Creating a Child's World.”


“When my patients are afraid, the frogs are a source of calming.”

— Gretchen Moen, assistant professor of nursing and Mpls.St.Paul magazine 2013 Outstanding Nurse, on the frog room and therapy frog puppet at Eagan Child and Family Clinic, which she founded.