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New brace to help children worldwide

BY LILY ABROMEIT | OCTOBER 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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A University of Iowa-based organization has inspired local doctors to develop a new method to expand the availability of treatment for clubfoot worldwide.

After three years of work, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is ready to unveil the Iowa Clubfoot Brace. 

This new technology, based on the Ponseti International Association’s method, is aimed at creating a higher quality and more affordable alternative for people diagnosed with clubfoot.

“It is a way to ensure we are maximizing the effectiveness of the treatment,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said. “In parts of the world where they really need it, we can really have a huge impact on a global basis.”

Clubfoot is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth in which [a] baby’s foot is twisted out of shape or position.”

Ignacio Ponseti created the Ponseti Method at the UI in 1996 to cure clubfoot in children.

According to the Ponseti International website, the method uses the manipulation of muscles, ligaments, and bones through casting to achieve the correct position of the feet.

Moore described the Ponseti method as the “gold standard” for treating clubfoot. He said although it is practiced in many parts of the world, it is not practical and accessible for many families under constrictions of current treatment.

Jose Morcuende, the CEO and medical director of the Ponseti International Association who has worked with the team on the new brace for the past three years, said this was the main concern.

“We decided to tackle this problem with a high-quality and affordable brace,” he said. “It will allow doctors and families to be successful in their methods.”

Moore said to have an effective brace, the manufacturer must keep in mind the sensitivity of the skin, simplicity of the device, weight, size, appearance, and cost.

Current manufactured braces do not fit the criteria, he said, and children tend to not wear them, leading to a return of the deformity.

Morcuende, who also is a UI professor of orthopedic surgery, said a brace can cost from $500 to $25,000 per year, and the child must wear it for four years. He said these high prices are not realistic for many families, especially in developing countries — but the team hopes to expand as far as Algeria, Peru, Pakistan, Chile, Venezuela and elsewhere.

UI freshman Ana Barrett, who has clubfoot, said she also thinks this cost decrease will benefit children, particularly in underdeveloped countries.

“It is more common than people realize,” Barrett said. “So if they can get it to a wide audience, maybe clubfoot will not be a big problem.”

Barrett said having clubfoot in her right foot has affected her life in many ways, and she would like to see all children who have clubfeet receive the help they need.

“It’s made it difficult to do daily activities that people take for granted, like walking,” Barrett said. “But I got the help I needed … so if other kids can do it, too, that’s good … so they can be active and live a full life.”

Morcuende said the brace will hopefully be in production in the next four to six months and then will be ready for distribution by 2014.

Barrett said she sees this developing technology as “very innovative” and is pleased to see the solutions increasing.

“I just want people to know that clubfoot is something you can easily overcome with patience and determination,” she said.


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