Friday, August 13, 2004

Why so many surgeries on my feet?

Josh was kind enough to ask (not many are) why I have had to have so many surgeries on my feet. Here's the long and short of it:

I was born with clubbed feet (a.k.a. pidgeon-toed). For the first six months of my life, I was put into a series of corrective casts to turn my feet out straight. When children are still infants, their bones are maleable, so corrective casting usually helps a problem like mine. However, when I was six months old, my parents and I moved and I was taken to a different doctor until just before my fourth birthday.

This doctor didn't know exactly what he was doing. He tried to correct my feet too quickly with too much correction in each cast, and then in shoes and braces. By the time my parents realized that what he was doing was crippling me, I was already walking on the insides of my ankles. And that doctor said my feet were corrected.

Mostly because of that doctor, I had to undergo a number of surgeries (15) at the Shriner's Hospitals for Children in St. Louis, MO. My doctor and surgeon there was the Chief of Staff, Dr. Perry Schoenecker (pronounced sheh-nek-er). I didn't know until just before they released me, but Dr. Shoenecker told the head of the orthotics department (where they make braces, inserts, artificial limbs, etc.) that I had the worst "skew" feet he had ever seen. Keep in mind that he had been COS for about 15 years by the time I became his patient.

Most of the first surgeries I had were meant to reallign my bones. In order to do that, my doctor had to cut through a lot of bones, put pins in my foot, lengthen my very short heel cords, and put implants in the sides of my feet just to keep my ankles from sliding off. I also had to have staples put in the growth plates of my ankles to keep them from forcing my ankles toward the insides of my feet.

I underwent 15 surgeries between the ages of 4 and 11. I was released just before my 21st birthday. The Shriner's Hospitals are just for children. Usually, they only treat children up to the age of 18, but I had an extensive history there; my chart was at least four inches thick. Dr. Shoenecker referred me to the best doctor he knew from Wichita. Dr. Steven Howell of the Kansas Orthopaedic Center had spent a portion of his residency years working under Dr. Shoenecker (as have a number of doctors at KOC). I was assured he was the best -- and he is.

I went 12 years without having to have foot surgery. I thought I was in the clear. But gradually, the pain in my feet got worse. Inserts didn't work, so they made braces for me. They stopped working so they made bigger ones to try to take the weight off of my feet. They stopped working. Dr. Howell said that the only other option we had was surgery. My feet were still very disfigured in spite of the surgeries the Shriner's had done; their goal was simply to provide a way for me to walk when otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to.

The surgeries I had on my feet in these past few months were to basically restructure my feet. My heels had been on the outsides of my feet while my ankles were still on the insides, but stable. I had tremendous pain on the insides of my feet after standing for longer than 10 minutes. By repositioning my heels directly under my ankles, lengthening my heel cords a little more, and doing some bone lengthening and grafting, my feet should be better able to handle standing and walking for longer periods of time.

Yeah, I've been through a lot, but had it not been for the surgeries I've had, I would have been permanently bound to a wheelchair, and I may have lost my feet altogether. Even though I've endured the excruciating pain of surgery numerous times, it's been worth it to be able to walk, dance, skip, and live like a "normal" person. I wouldn't have had that otherwise.

I know this is a long post, but Josh, can you see why I couldn't answer you in a short comment on a previous post? By the way, I'm writing a book about my experiences. Look for it in the next year or so.


Devona said...

Thanks for letting us know. Did your parents ever do anything about that 2nd doctor who "fixed" the problem?
I hope all of this turns out good and these are your last surgeries.

Mrs. T. Swede said...

Actually, because that second doctor never operated on my feet, it would have been very difficult to prove malpractice. Fortunately, my parents engaged in the next best form of revenge: word of mouth about his lack of respect and expertise. He was rude to my parents, and he obviously didn't know what he was doing. Either that or he didn't care.

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. I get my pins out Tuesday and am just two or three weeks away from a walking cast! Yea!