First-time parents have many fears and anxieties about their newborn’s health, but the thought that your baby could be born with clubfoot is rarely one of them.
When this becomes a reality, it can be daunting, trying to imagine the future for your little one and how they will grow up.
Clubfoot is a condition where feet grow inwards and the child is unable to walk properly.
This not only looks painful but is a pain that the little ones have to bear.
The feet of a young sufferer develop abnormally during the second trimester of the mother’s pregnancy.
When Cape Town mother Karen Moss gave birth to her son Alex in 2003, the joy of the moment was fraught with panic because the child was born with this birth defect.
Moss says she will never forget what the doctor said and the panic that set in when she was told the news: “I don’t like your son’s feet. They don’t look normal”, she recalls.
“Alex had bilateral clubfoot - it affected both feet. I had so many questions and so little information to help my panic. I wondered if my child would every walk and fully function” says Moss.
Treatment at a local specialist started when Alex was just eight days old.
“It was awful, the doctor would force Alex’s feet into position while he screamed in pain. I sobbed through it,” she says.
Clubfoot - which afflicts about 200000 infants a year around the world, and about 2000 in South Africa - is a disabling birth defect in which one or both feet are turned inward and down, and untreated, compels the victim to walk clumsily on the sides of their feet.
Today is World Clubfoot Day - a day to raise awareness about clubfoot disability and its prevention using a non-surgical treatment that includes gentle manipulation of the feet followed by the application of plaster casts and temporary bracing.
Back in 2005, non-invasive treatment was not available in South Africa, so Moss flew to the US for her son’s treatment.
Alex’s treatment involved casts set every fifth day.
“I could see a huge difference from the first cast. We did three rounds of treatment and Alex’s feet were just about perfect. All we had to do was ensure he slept in a pair of specialised shoes until he turned four” says Moss.
After being frustrated by the trouble she had to go through to find help, she started Steps - a non-profit organisation which she formed in 2005 “to spread the application of a far-reaching and relatively inexpensive non- surgical treatment for clubfoot”.
Today, the organisation focuses on four areas: training, run in partnership with the Department of Health; clinic support, by capturing data and supplying equipment; importing and selling clubfoot braces; and advocacy, reducing stigma around clubfoot and educating parents about treatment.
A mother who is assisted by Steps, Nomzamo Batyi, 35, says for the first week when her son was born she hid his sons feet.
“I was shy and I didn’t want to be answering questions about why his feet looked like that,” says Batyi.
It was only when she met other mothers that she realised she had nothing to worry about - that having a child with clubfoot was nothing to be ashamed off and that the child could get help and live a normal life.