B.C. Family Takes Steps to Deal with Club Foot

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

Daughter, 6, Born with Condition, Fundraises for the Cause

Claire Chateauneuf of Burnaby, B.C. likes Sponge Bob, swimming, scooters, and skating – a typical 6-year-old.

“If you see her now you wouldn’t say that anything is wrong,” says Dr. Shafique Pirani, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

But Dr. Pirani knows how much progress Claire has made he has treated her since she was a baby, born with a club foot.

A club foot is turned inward and downward, and remains stuck in that position, resisting realignment. One out of 1,000 children, an estimated 100,000 worldwide, are born with a club foot each year.

Claire is Jillian and Paul Chateauneuf’s second child, a sister to Luke, now 10. When Claire was born, Jillian had never even heard of club feet. She quickly became an expert, as Claire’s left foot was put into a cast at six days old.

Claire’s treatment, the “Ponseti Method” (after the doctor who popularized it), involves gently repositioning and casting the foot. Every week, the cast is removed, the foot is shifted slightly, and a new cast is applied, encouraging the foot to grow correctly. This went on with Claire for five casts – “like a potter moulding clay,” says Dr. Pirani.

As Claire’s Achilles tendon was too short to maintain her foot in the normal position, she also underwent a procedure to cut the tendon, which could then heal longer than before.

After her final cast was removed, Claire wore a brace (shoes attached to a bar) for 23 hours a day. This went on for months. She then had to wear it to bed, until age 5.

While some severe cases of club foot require surgery, the Ponseti Method is usually effective, and patients have no physical limitations. In fact, several prominent athletes were born with club feet, including figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, Canadian Olympic Gold medal curler Sandra Schmirler, soccer star Mia Hamm, and football player Troy Aikman.

Claire wears orthotics in her shoes, and also does exercises to strengthen the outside muscles of her foot, like kicking a ball sideways, walking up slides, and picking up jacks with her toes.

One lingering effect is that Claire’s left foot is a size and a half smaller than her right. Recently, her foot began to grow a bit inward again, not uncommon, so she received another cast, and started to wear the brace again at night.

The Chateauneuf family have become ambassadors for the disorder, with Jillian coordinating the local Hip Hip Hooray! walk for the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation, and Claire and Luke among the top child fundraisers. The money raised goes towards much needed research, treatment and education.

Jillian has a healthy perspective on Claire’s condition, recalling what her family doctor told her about childbirth. “We’re always shocked when things go wrong. We should be shocked when nothing goes wrong. In varying degrees, people have all sorts of issues.”

Claire might have started life off with a disability, but thanks to orthopaedic treatment and her own determination, she has made great strides-not only for herself but for others too.