Changing lives two feet at a time

In a village in rural Liberia, a long and muddy road from anywhere, I came across a grandma, a mom and a baby daughter all afflicted by clubfoot. This is a common birth defect in which one or both feet are grotesquely turned inward. We don’t see it in the U.S. or Europe because doctors correct it soon after birth, and clubfoot alumni include athletic superstars like Mia Hamm and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Yet here, as in most of the world, kids with clubfoot weren’t treated and grew up as outcasts. About one child in 800 worldwide is born with clubfoot, and in poor countries they are left to hobble on the sides of their feet; unable to work, they may become beggars.

In this village, clubfoot used to be a life sentence: The grandma, Yahin-yee Korwee, never went to school, nor did her daughter, Hannah Cooper, 26. Then Cooper had her own daughter 11 months ago, also with clubfoot (it’s partly hereditary).

Yet this baby had her feet fixed. This is possible with a simple nonsurgical treatment involving a series of plaster casts to guide the foot into the proper position. This approach, called the Ponseti method, is routine in Western countries and is increasingly available in poor countries as well, through aid groups like MiracleFeet, based in North Carolina, and Cure, based in Pennsylvania.

I wish that skeptics of humanitarian aid could have seen the baby get care from MiracleFeet and emerge with feet as good as anyone else’s. Now she’ll be able to walk and run, go to school and hold a job, support herself and her country.

And the total cost? Less than $500 for transforming a life.

 [Excerpts of New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof]

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