‘Clubfoot’ affects around 1 in 1,000 births and can lead to lifelong disability if left untreated, but long-term therapy can lead to full recovery
Scans identified problems with Elliot Baker’s little feet while he was still in the womb.
Halfway through her mother Emma’s pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed that her baby’s feet were deformed – a severely debilitating and painful condition if left untreated.
But a life-changing treatment transformed Elliot’s life, allowing him to play sports like other kids his age.
Elliot was only a few weeks old when treatment began at the private Mater Children’s Hospital – weekly bandages on both legs to begin manipulating the bones of his deformed feet like playdough, straightening them little by little. small over time.
After the cast treatment was completed when he was about four months old, he spent between 12 and 23 hours a day wearing boots attached to what looks like a tiny snowboard – a device that kept his feet straight – until on his fifth birthday.
Elliot, who turns seven in December, no longer goes to bed with the ‘boots and bar’ contraption and is an active little boy, despite being born with a severe case of so-called ‘clubfeet’ , or talipes, occurring in about one in every 1,000 births.
“He’s doing great. He’s been swimming, he’s been doing gymnastics, he’s been doing a bit of athletics. He’s a very fast runner,” said proud dad James.
“He is playing rugby at the moment.
“It’s been a long ride for the little guy, but he took it in stride. He never complained.”
Elliot’s feet show few signs of the intensive treatment he endured at Mater’s Clubfoot Service which sees between 50 and 100 new children each year, including some from Pacific island nations and remote Aboriginal communities in Queensland.
“Almost the result of textbooks”
His orthopedic surgeon David Bade said Elliot’s feet were corrected using a therapy, known as the Ponseti Method, named after American Ignacio Ponseti, who developed it.
Dr Bade said Elliot needed minor surgery on his left foot – a procedure known as a tenotomy to cut the Achilles tendon, allowing better movement.
Otherwise, her feet were straightened using non-invasive physiotherapy techniques without the need for surgery.
“He’s running with his buddies. He has normal looking feet, but most importantly they’re fully functional and they don’t feel any pain,” Dr Bade said.
The cause of Elliot’s clubfoot remains a mystery with no known history of clubfoot on either side of his family.
Dr Bade said most cases are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.
While 95% of children with the condition can be successfully treated using the Ponseti method, some require more extensive surgery and may need to wear specially designed leg splints.
“The natural history of clubfoot, if left untreated, is that it’s a debilitating condition where you can’t actually walk comfortably, you get a terrible foot deformity that will eventually cause both pain and great disability,” Dr. Bade said.
Ms Baker admits she was ‘shocked and upset’ when the 20-week ultrasound, while she was pregnant with Elliot, revealed her deformed feet.
Although further tests failed to identify any other problems, and despite doctors’ assurances of treatment, she remained nervous before she was born.
This all dissolved after Elliot gave birth.
“When he was born, to be honest, it didn’t really matter because he was our baby and all that stress immediately went away,” she said.
“He was perfectly healthy and handsome.
“Considering the severity of his feet at birth, we almost got the textbook result. I’m just so grateful that we got the result we got. It doesn’t affect his life now in any way.”
Elliot, who has a younger sister, Clara, 4, crawled at eight months and walked unaided shortly after her first birthday.
Physiotherapist Tracey Bulow said the Mater Clubfoot service carried out 594 consultations in 2021, including 74 new patients.
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