World Clubfoot Day: Changing the lives of thousands from Carrboro
Posted June 2, 2014
Updated June 3, 2014
Clubfoot is a common congenital birth defect that occurs in about 1 out of 750 births. It causes one or both feet to turn inward at the ankle and is swiftly treated here in the United States and across the developed world.
That's not the case in other parts of the world where many children receive no treatment. The lasting effects don't just mean trouble getting around. It is one of the leading causes of permanent disability, which, in some countries, can result in illiteracy, physical and sexual abuse, neglect and little opportunity to work, get married or live a decent life.
Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, a Triangle mom, decided to do something about it a few years ago. She launched Miraclefeet, a Carrboro-based group that works with clinics in countries around the world to help doctors treat clubfoot. Four years after launching its first clinic, Miraclefeet supports treatment to more than 5,000 patients in more than 50 clinics in countries such as Mexico, South Africa, Namibia and the Philippines.
June 3 is World Clubfoot Day. I chatted with Colloredo-Mansfeld to learn more about her work, which is changing the lives of so many children. Here's our email chat.
Go Ask Mom: You first saw children with clubfoot growing up in Africa. This isn't just a physical issue for them. How can it affect the rest of their lives?
Colloredo-Mansfeld: Unfortunately children living with physical disabilities in most developing countries face incredible hurdles in life. Often they do not go to school because they cannot walk. They are hidden away or left alone in houses because their families are embarrassed about them. They are at much higher risk of neglect, poverty, physical and sexual abuse. They often end up begging on street corners and face a life of discrimination, pain and poverty. And what is so amazing is all this can be prevented by providing a very inexpensive, relatively easy treatment when the child is a few weeks old.
GAM: The birth defect is treated quickly in the developed world. What barriers prevent children from getting treatment in other parts of the world?
C-M: There are three main barriers. One is a lack of access to treatment. In many countries health care providers are not properly trained to treat clubfoot and so treatment is not readily available. Miraclefeet is addressing this by working to establish and support clubfoot clinics in major public hospitals.
The second major barrier is a lack of understanding that clubfoot is a treatable condition. We address this through outreach and educational campaigns so that parents who have a child born with clubfoot know it can be easily treated.
And third, is the lack of a high quality, low cost brace. Bracing is an important part of treatment once the foot is corrected using plaster casts. miraclefeet has developed a $20 brace with Stanford University and some other corporate partners. So we are chipping away at the problem from several angles and making terrific progress.
GAM: Clubfoot was historically treated with surgery. But Dr. Ignacio Ponseti came up with a new non-surgical treatment 50 years ago that is now the gold standard treatment for clubfoot worldwide. What does this mean for children with clubfoot in the developing world?
C-M: The Ponseti Method yields much better results for children. When done correctly, clubfoot can be completely cured in 95 percent of cases. The treatment is non-surgical, and very low cost at $250 per child, so it is ideally suited to developing country situations. The Ponseti Method means that there is no reason we cannot eradicate the severe and painful disability caused by untreated clubfoot around the world.
GAM: You are in the process of producing a special brace. Tell us about those efforts.
C-M: After the feet are corrected through casting, the children have to wear a simple foot brace at night for four years (the brace plays a similar role to that of a retainer in orthodontic treatment). Braces in the U.S. are very easy to use, but cost $350 to $700. In developing countries, braces are either prohibitively expensive for families to afford or low-cost, but very hard to use.
Miraclefeet has come up with a low cost brace, working in partnership with the Stanford University’s Design School, Clarks Shoes and a plastics company called Suncast. The new brace has the functionality and ease-of-use of U.S. braces but we can produce it for $20. This will have an enormous impact on the cost of delivering treatment and the outcomes for the children.
GAM: World Clubfoot Day is June 3. How can people help with your efforts and bring awareness to the issue?
C-M: Unlike so many of the world’s problems, this one is easily fixed. People can help by visiting our website at www.miraclefeet.org where they can learn more and make a donation. It only costs $250 to transform a child’s life forever. Please also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and share our posts with your friends and family to help spread the word. There are 1 million children currently living with untreated clubfoot in the developing world. We can help them escape a lifetime of poverty and pain with as little as $250 a child.