Chance to walk on their own two feet

Mom tack­les club-foot con­di­tion, writes MICHAEL MOR­RIS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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