Sunday, November 1, 2009

November is here! Time for some gratitude...

I can't believe it is November. I love November for a few reasons...but one of them is that I do November Gratitudes all month. So, I'm going to try and put something I am grateful into each and every post.

Although, I can't promise I won't have some grumbling, too.

But anyway, to start out this glorious, burnt-orange gratitude month out, I have to start with a story (did you expect anything different from me?).

In March of 2001, I had my 20 week ultrasound to get my first look at Thomas. I had known for many years that my first child would be a son, so I wasn't surprised at all when they said he was a boy. They seemed to do all the normal ultrasound-y stuff; nothing really set off any alarms. But when the ultrasound techs asked me and Shane to come back in to the ultrasound room with the radiologist, I knew something was wrong. They started looking at Thomas' feet again, and the first question I asked was: Does he have a clubfoot? I think the doctor was a little shocked that I asked, but he answered "yes" right away. It was the first inkling I had of what would soon be our reality with Thomas' foot. It wasn't completely foreign to me, since I had a clubfoot when I was born as well. I knew Thomas would walk, I knew he would play and run and do all the things that boys do. I just didn't know how we would get to that point.

After the initial shock, I began looking up methods for treating clubfoot on the Internet. I found out about a doctor named Ignacio Ponseti. Then 86 (86!), Ponseti was a doctor who had perfected a gentle, non-invasive method for treating clubfoot. His method included positioning the foot within days of birth, casting the foot to hold the position, then repeating the process each week for 6 - 8 weeks. At the end of the casting, the Achilles tendon would be clipped during a clinic visit (the foot was numbed, no anesthesia necessary) which would bring the foot up into a 90 degree angle. A cast would hold the position for 3 weeks. After that, the child would wear special shoes attached to a bar that would keep the corrected foot turned out for the duration of a few months.

Finding information about this technique was an answer to my furtive, soon-to-be-a-mother prayers. I found a wonderful doctor at the Salt Lake Shriners Hospital (seriously, wonderful; he's like family! Love, love him!) who had learned from Ponseti how to treat children like my sweet Thomas. Although our treatment varied a little from what was expected (Thomas had something like 22 casts, and had 2 surgeries instead of the tendon clipping; of course we would be in the 5% who have more than the 6- 8 casts!), his foot was treated with what I think of as the most humane way of treating this common birth defect.

5-day old Thomas, getting his first cast.

Not-so-high tech: plain old plaster cast, some manipulation, a few extra hands thrown in to help.

A few years ago, I wrote a few articles for a local newspaper. I did one article about the doctors at Shriners who were using the Ponseti method. During my research, I called the clinic in Iowa where Ponseti practiced. I asked a few questions of his nurse before she asked me, "Would you like to talk to Dr. Ponseti? He's right here." Before I knew it, I was talking to him. I felt so humbled, listening to his gentle voice, his accent coloring our conversation, as we talked about our experience with his method. He asked about my son, about his treatment, about how happy I was with our doctor here in Utah. It was the closest I've ever came to talking to a celebrity.

I learned a few weeks ago that Ponseti had passed away. It made me incredibly sad that such a giant had passed from our midst. He was 95 years old. I know that I will be eternally grateful to him for his determination to make his technique succeed. That he was willing to against the grain of his contemporaries, who treated clubfoot surgically. That he reached out to other doctors to teach them his method. That he was willing to talk to a silly first time mother in Utah and show concern for her son who had been helped by something he created. Grateful that his legacy has helped my son to be able to play soccer and learn karate and run around the block. Our life will never be the same because this man lived. And that he will keep helping children, even my own great-nephew who we found out a few weeks ago will have clubfeet, through the doctors he has trained while here on earth.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Ponseti, here is an awesome article in the NY Times. There is also a website,

Thank you, Ignacio Ponseti, and God bless you. I know that your reception on the other side was glorious, thanks to all those who you have helped around the world.


Amy Sorensen said...


Yesterday I had a little meltdown at relief society trying to talk about how grateful I am for doctors. I haven't quite put it into words (those who witnessed my inarticulate sobbing yesterday can attest to that) but you did it well here. I'm grateful for Dr. Ponseti too, and that Thomas gets to be just a normal kid!

(well, as normal as you can be when your mom's an Allman, but...)

Apryl said...

What a good story. I agree, Doctors are awesome. I appreciate them. And modern medicine. And cars. And grocery stores.

Melanie said...

That gave me goosebumps. You're such an awesome mom to have researched it all and handled it as well as you did. Thomas couldn't have been sent to a more capable mother. And your niece is lucky to have you to guide her through the process.