Serah won’t remember having club feet

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Serah's casts were changed weekly
Serah’s casts were changed weekly

Sandrine’s elation turned to shock when her longed-for daughter was born. The baby’s tiny feet were twisted at severe right-angles, facing inward.

Sandrine tearfully wrapped Serah’s disfigured feet and could not find the courage to look at them again for three days. Sandrine’s husband had been delighted about his daughter’s birth, but he felt ill when he learned about her club feet. All he could think about was her limited options for the future in Madagascar. He thought, with this disability Serah would be unlikely to marry and establish a family support network of her own. “I was embarrassed about my baby. People were looking at her – everyone’s eyes were on her,” shares Sandrine. Serah’s grandmother cried with despair.

The midwife was able to help the family understand there was hope for Serah; Mercy Ships was returning to Madagascar. She assured them the hospital ship’s Ponseti program corrected many babies’ club feet in the past year. They could help Serah too.

Sandrine took her baby to a screening day after the Mercy Ship docked. When she received an appointment she held Serah close and danced for joy around her garden.  Hope had finally arrived!

When Serah was seven months old they began weekly visits to the Mercy Ships Ponseti clinic where Serah’s clubfeet would be corrected without invasive surgery.

According to lead orthopaedic surgeon Dr Frank Haydon (USA), this method of reversing club foot conditions needs minimal specialised equipment and is ideal for developing nation conditions. The key is local adoption of the program. “It can’t be guaranteed by a charity or by government. It must be sustained by the culture,” he explains.

Ponseti team crewmembers Nick (AUS) and Suzanne Veltjens (USA) collaborated with several Malagasy physiotherapists led by Dr Razafindravoanjo. He comments, “We have treated 15 children with perfect results (100% correction). Now we can treat children up to three years old. Maybe in the future there will be no older people with club feet in Madagascar because now we have three years in which to treat children with this condition!”

Each week’s therapy would begin with Serah and the other babies happily playing in water tubs while their mothers chatted and soaked off the previous week’s plaster casts.

Serah grew used to the physio team ‘playing’ with her bent feet – gently stretching and manipulating – focusing this week on one degree and direction of foot flexion and the next week on another. After each session, Serah’s feet were held in the newly attained position by a fresh plaster casting on her wriggling and kicking legs.

Serah had a total of six little casts consecutively on both legs before her tenotomy procedure. This snip of her Achilles tendons allowed her feet to fully pop into the final corrected position. To maintain this ultimate degree of foot flexion she wore miniature foot braces ‘23/7’, for three months.

Over months of therapy, the Ponseti team helped Sandrine understand how vital her commitment to Serah’s ongoing treatment is. In the final stage and longest of treatment,
Sandrine must ensure Serah wears the supplied foot braces every single night until she is four or five years old.  Only then will Serahs’ club feet be permanently corrected.

Sandrine tells us “I was so sad, but now I am overjoyed. Now we’re going to show Serah off saying ‘Here we are! Come and see my baby!’ I am very happy now she has real feet.”

When Serah takes her first steps, she will be just like all her little toddler friends. No one will be able to tell she was born with a disability.

Serah will never remember living with the burden of bi-lateral club feet, but Sandrine will never forget the life-sentence her daughter was saved from. “My mother cried before,” Sandrine declares. “We won’t cry now, we will dance!”