July 20 2020
In January 2014, Stacey Smiler’s son, Keanu, was born with talipes, or clubfoot. Clubfoot is when the foot or feet grow abnormally. It affects one child in a thousand! Here, Stacey explains what talipes is. She talks about her reaction to finding out her son’s diagnosis and the treatment Keanu went through in his first few years.
He’s got talipes? What’s talipes?
Talipes is the medical name for clubfoot.
I discovered this during my pregnancy around my 20 week scan. The Sonographer’s report used the medical term and I had no idea what it meant. Imagine my horror when I googled and found out that our son had a deformity. It was so unexpected, we had no family history of this.
At this point I was a first-time mum with little to no support network as my husband and I were living overseas in Australia. The cause of clubfoot, unless heredity, is still unknown to doctors.
1 in 1000 Babies Born with Clubfoot
The paediatric physiotherapist at the hospital explained and we also did our own research to understand. I was very overwhelmed and immediately began worrying that I had done something wrong in my pregnancy for this to happen. In fact, 1 in 1000 babies are born with clubfoot making it one of the most common birth defects.
Why does no one know about this? I have no idea, but I guess no one wants to know things that could go wrong from conception to birth.
Symptoms of Clubfoot
Clubfoot is when the foot or feet grow abnormally. Keanu’s feet were twisted inwards from the ankles, with the heels pointing inwards. The tendons connecting the muscle to the bones were shorter.
For some reason the right foot was worse than the left and at about 6 weeks old Keanu had a tenotomy. During this procedure the orthopaedic doctor snipped his Achilles Tendon. This lengthened Keanu’s range of movement in his right foot. It is a small procedure, done under local anaesthetic, but we were not present. We were first-time parents and really had no idea of our rights in terms of medicine. Now we know that we could have been there, and we could have insisted on being in the room.
Clubfoot Treatment- Ponseti Method
At one week old Keanu began the process of aligning his feet through weekly visits to the paediatric physiotherapist which involved stretching and casting. So each week Keanu would get his legs casted from the foot to the top of the thigh. With each visit the feet would slowly be realigned to move them outwards instead of inwards.
We were allowed to bath him once a week for the first 8 weeks, each time at the hospital. If he had a poo explosion during the week while waiting for the next appointment it would be a nightmare trying to clean the tops of the casts!!
After the first 8 weeks the Ponseti Method changes. If the doctors are happy with how the feet have been corrected. Keanu went to about 11 weeks as we had to travel from where we were living in Canberra, to the children’s hospital in Sydney, where they had superior experience in talipes treatment. They thought he should have a few more weeks of casting. Then came the boots and bar phase.
From casts to boots and a bar
For 3 months after the casts came off, Keanu wore alignment boots connected with a metal bar. They could be described as a foot brace. He wore them for 23 hours a day. They were allowed to be taken off for his daily bath. After 3 months, he then changed to just nighttime wear of the boots and bar; 12 hours a night until the age of 4.
Keanu is now six and his feet are looking great. He does have low muscle tone with slim calves and his right leg is noticeably skinnier. We have to keep an eye on Keanu’s feet and he has yearly orthopaedic appointments. In the future, growth during puberty could mean changes for his feet which is something we are mindful of.
As you can see, there is quite a process to correcting clubfoot. However, we often reflect on how it was a major blessing to be living in a country where this type of medical support was available and possible for our son.
Help for families affected by clubfoot
If you know anyone affected by clubfoot these are my top 3 ways of offering help:
1. Ask about the progress. If progress is slow then highlight other strengths of parenting or strengths the child possesses. This will help boost morale for the parents during an unexpected and sometimes tiresome experience.
2. Be mindful when gifting clothes for a clubfoot baby. It is often hard to find trousers etc to fit due to the thickness of the casts. Instead, offer a voucher or something similar. The parents will know what will work best.
3. Check out these websites: NHS UK or Steps Worldwide or Aussie Clubfoot Kids which tell you everything you need to know about Clubfoot and the treatment process. By educating yourself on the symptoms, causes and treatment you can offer more support to the family.
Hi my name is Stacey Smiler, I am a married mother & teacher of 2 children; Keanu (6 years old) and Koel (7 months old). We currently live between New Zealand and Japan due to the nature of my husband’s work. We have been married for 7 years and have also lived in Australia. I am extremely grateful for the medical services in the countries in which we have lived. You can read more about us in our blog Keanu’s Story.
This is Stacey’s second blog about Keanu. Read about their journey with epilepsy here: