Chance to walk on their own two feet
Mom tackles club-foot condition, writes MICHAEL MORRIS
HAVING child changes every mother’s life – for Karen Moss, having a child, it turned out, would change the lives of countless mothers and their children.
When Cape Town mom Moss, now 52, gave birth to her son, Alex, in 2003, the joy of the moment was fraught with panic and anxiety, for her baby was born with club-foot.
Club- foot – which afflicts about 200 000 infants a year around the world, and about 2 000 in South Africa – is a disabling birth defect in which one or both feet are turned inward and down, and which, if untreated, compels the victim to walk clumsily on the sides of their feet.
Conventional surgical corrective procedures are generally expensive and only available to those with access to sophisticated medical services.
But there is another way, and Karen Moss found it.
It is a measure of the journey that Moss has travelled since, that she flew to India this month to attend the Global Club-foot Conference in Delhi and widen the reach of the organisation, STEPS which she formed in 2005 to spread the application of a far-reaching and relatively inexpensive non-surgical treatment for clubfoot. The treatment has brought relief to mothers and afflicted children. STEPS was awarded Gold at the 2017 Impumelelo Social Innovations Awards at the Artscape last weekend.
Next year the organisation will be hosting the first African Global Club-foot Conference in Cape Town.
Back in 2003, a distressed Moss had surmised that her baby was fated to have to endure surgery if he was to have any hope of walking normally.
But a frantic online search yielded the details of a man who would be her figure of redemption, Spanish- born orthopaedic surgeon Ignacio Ponseti. Ponseti was the man who, as long ago as the 1950s, devised a cure based on the physical manipulation of the foot. In each step of the treatment, the foot is stretched and turned slightly outward, and a hip-to-foot plaster cast is applied to hold the position. After about five weeks, the foot is re-formed, and it remains merely for the child to wear a brace at night over the next few years while the bones mature.
Undeterred when she discovered that no one in South Africa practised the Ponseti method, Moss and her husband, Steve, flew to the United States with infant Alex to see Ponseti in person. Not only did his treatment work wonders for Alex, but he persuaded Moss to take up the Ponseti cause to help others.
In a eulogy at the surgeon’s death in 2009, Moss wrote: “Nobody can ever replace what he meant to me. He gave me hope for my baby when I was at my lowest despair…”
On that visit, Moss learned a from Ponseti that “Africa was very close to his heart, particularly South Africa, as studies had shown that the incidence of club-foot in the continent was two to three times higher than the world average”.
Less than three weeks after meeting Ponseti, “we were on our way home with a baby boy with beautiful straight feet”.
“Not only did Dr Ponseti have a wonderful impact on the quality of my son’s life, he inspired me to work for the betterment of club- foot treatment in my country,” Moss wrote.
In his 2011 article in the New York Times, Barry Meiernov noted that Ponseti’s story was especially compelling “because the medical establishment had ignored him, not just for a few years but for five decades. Surgery remained the treatment of choice, though it was performed largely only in wealthier countries and could leave a patient with a limp”.
Many of the 2 000 babies born with club-foot every year in South Africa live outside the main centres and treatment is
Pioneering orthopaedic surgeon Ignatio Ponseti with Karen and Alex Moss.
Alex Moss, as active as any little boy.