Clubfoot was not on Renee Allatzas’ radar the day her daughter, Sophia, was born 6 years ago. But when this diagnosis was made for not one but 2 of her 7 children, the Stroke Unit Nurse Manager at Aultman Hospital made it her mission to learn everything about it.
Renee’s research took her to Dr. Mark Adamczyk, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Akron Children’s Hospital and the director of the hospital’s Clubfoot Clinic. A follower of the Ponseti treatment plan, Dr. Adamczyk works with Sophia, 6, and Liam, 3, to make sure they can remain active and vibrant while overcoming this mobility obstacle.
“About 1 out of 750 children are born with clubfoot each year,” said Dr. Adamczyk. “The Ponseti treatment is extensively researched and has shown amazing results for these kids, increasing their mobility and quality of life.”
The very social Sophia, a first grader at Walker Elementary School in Canton, enjoys participating in tumbling and gymnastics with her friends, something Renee and her husband Brian weren’t sure she’d ever be able to do. Her mom says Sophia’s great sense of humor coupled with a large amount of grit and her laid back personality are her key to gracefully enduring casting and special shoes designed to redirect her foot into the correct position.
“She’s working on her coordination,” said Renee. “Sometimes she gets tied up or trips, but she’s a tough cookie. She always gets right back up and tries again.”
It was during her diagnosis and treatment that Renee had another surprise. Her mother in law told her that her husband, Brian, also struggled with clubfoot as a child, requiring casting and special shoes.
“It is rare but this can be passed on to next generations,” said Renee. “I never knew Brian also had clubfoot until Sophia was born but he endured many of the same treatments as a child.”
Using her medical savvy, Renee was able to spot her Liam’s double clubfeet during an ultrasound during her pregnancy. But her experience with Dr. Adamczyk and Sophia were comforting upon that realization and they were able to mobilize quickly with a treatment plan.
“Dr. Adamczyk was so patient with us, answering all our questions and concerns throughout the whole process,” said Renee. “I knew we had a plan to face this together and that was so comforting.”
Liam required an outpatient surgery with Dr. Adamczyk when he was 1 month old to help him flex his feet. He underwent casting and special shoes that he has to wear 12 hours a day.
“It isn’t easy for a child to understand,” said Renee. “Dr. Adamczyk would always make time on the fly to see us to help us adjust and troubleshoot. Me being a nurse and being so crazed and sleep deprived, I am sure he thought I was dramatic. But he never made me feel like that in any way and was always very attentive to all of our concerns.”
Dr. Adamczyk says correcting clubfoot requires working closely with families like the Allatzas, and he feels privileged to work with a family so committed to helping their children follow treatment plans.
“We know families will have questions and concerns,” said Dr. Adamczyk. “We’re always here to support and guide them. Kids are constantly changing dimensions, and we want to optimize his progress as he grows, so he can do all the things his peers are doing.”
Boys will be boys and Liam doesn’t let clubfoot hold him back. But like any typical 3 year old, he isn’t always especially helpful when it comes to being compliant with his treatment plan.
“He has figured out how to take his shoes off, and those shoes are important because they help steer his foot in the right direction. He’s supposed to wear them 12 hours a day,” she said. “But it is great that’s he’s still able to get around, even go down the slide and enjoy the playground at his daycare at Aultman Hospital, with a little assistance from his teachers.”
The journey continues for the Allatzas family as Liam is preparing for another surgery in a few months to release the tendons on the top of his feet. Renee keeps the faith with the guidance of Dr. Adamczyk, knowing this is but a temporary bump in the road, one they will overcome as a team.