February 22, 2022

Early Intervention for Clubfoot Gives a New Spring to Baby’s Steps

In Kenya, A Better World has launched a project to improve the lives of families affected.

Laura Tester, for Canadian Adventist Messenger, and Adventist Review

Samuel’s* parents expected to be happy when he was born. Instead, they were distraught to learn that their baby was born with a congenital birth defect known as clubfoot. They had never seen anything like it before; their son’s feet were twisted out of position. If left untreated, the condition would have forced Samuel to walk on the outsides of his feet, a rather disabling condition. 

Then came good news. Samuel was accepted as a patient at the Clubfoot Care for Kenya (CCK) clinic at Kendu Bay in western Kenya. With casting, bracing, and a minor operation on the Achilles tendon, the boy’s life was transformed. 

“We removed the cast and braced [Samuel’s] feet for maintenance of the achieved correction,” Deril Mbewa, an occupational therapist at the clinic, said in an email to A Better World (ABW). “The parents are now happy and smiling all the way — when coming to the clinic and going back home.”

In August 2021, A Better World Canada partnered with Kendu Adventist Hospital and CCK to start the joint venture, located at the rehabilitation center on the hospital grounds.

“We’ve been trying to get it going for a long time,” ABW rehabilitation services coordinator Karen Leung said. 

For many years, ABW sponsored children’s surgeries in the region near Lake Victoria. The majority of those patients had clubfoot. They faced a difficult surgery that involved breaking three bones to reposition the foot. Although this procedure corrected the feet, in many cases patients faced significant pain as well as arthritis later in life, Leung said. 

Samuel’s first braces after casting was completed. [Photo: A Better World Canada]

It was time for a new solution. “The global standard is really early intervention,” Leung said. “In Canada, it’s recognized at birth. The child is put in casts and they are braced. By the time they are one year old, they are up walking and the foot is normal.” 

Staff use the Ponseti method of casting and bracing to gently reposition a child’s clubfoot. A minor surgery is also performed on the ankle tendon. 

“The newborn’s tendons and bones are still quite flexible,” Leung said. “So, if you can do that early on, then once the foot is in good position, you try to maintain that with bracing until the child is five years old.” 

The infant is monitored regularly with the help of a supportive team that includes therapists, a physician, and a parent advisor. Parents are educated and encouraged.

The hospital provides the facility and staffing, ABW provides the funds for the splinting and casting materials, and CCK provides oversight and the educational component. The Kendu clinic is now one of 24 CCK clinics in the country.

“We’re starting off with four new cases a month,” Leung said.

Since children are seen weekly, that will soon result in 10 or more visits per clinic. 

Leung, whose family is one of the rehabilitation center’s major donors, is excited that mothers are feeling optimistic rather than ashamed. They often feel cursed or blamed for their child’s condition. 

“It’s also exciting to be a part of a bigger network of recognized clinics across the whole country,” Leung said.

About A Better World

In 1990, two friends, Eric and Brian, wanted to invest 5,000 Canadian dollars (about US$3,900) in a development project. They and a handful of others decided to pay for reconstructive surgery for 15 children in Kenya, enabling them to walk for the first time. And so, A Better World was born.

The project was so successful that they began receiving donations to continue their humanitarian work. Nine years later, they traveled to Kenya to visit their project site.

Today, A Better World has projects in more than 15 countries and has invested 35.7 million Canadian dollars (about US$28.04 million) in quality education, essential healthcare, and clean water. More than one million lives have been changed for the better.

Throughout the years, more than 2,800 volunteers have traveled to project sites and countless more have supported ABW through fundraising. 

The original version of this story was posted in the February 2022 issue of the Canadian Adventist Messenger.

*Name has been changed.