Since 1991, Sparks has committed over £23 million for research into serious conditions affecting the health of babies, children and mums-to-be. Being born with clubfoot (congenital talipes equinovarus) means that life has not always been easy for 12-year-old Archie.
His mum, Anna, tells us their story and why there is such a need for medical research in this area…
“I remember the moment when Archie was born, thrilled at the safe arrival of our first born child but shocked when we noticed his left foot. It was severely curved inwards at 90 degrees, or rather it pointed East rather than North; his leg badly bowed from the knee and there was no cartilage inside the heel to naturally weigh the foot down. Our instant euphoria turned to fear and dread.
We were really lucky that the hospital where Archie was born employed one of the UK’s leading Paediatric Consultants specialising in clubfoot. She diagnosed Archie’s condition immediately and he was given the right treatment at just five days old – he was tiny.
He had to wear a plaster cast for the first 10 months of his life and learned to walk with a cast on his leg at just 13 months. This kind of perseverance and determination is a big part of Archie’s personality even now.
Since then he has had lots of different operations and treatments to get him where he is today. But he has coped with it fantastically and he is the one who has given us strength. He has one leg that is thinner and weaker than the other so he has to be careful not to damage it. Sometimes he gets embarrassed and doesn’t like to wear shorts but he won’t let it hold him back.
Shoes can be an issue for us as Archie’s feet are not even nearly the same size – one is a size four and the other is a size seven! So we end up buying two pairs of shoes. It can be hard to match the colours and styles between adult shoes (size seven) and children’s shoes (size four).
Sometimes we get a special insole made in the hospital with a toe block at the end, rather like a blocked ballet shoe, in order to buy just one pair of size sevens and get the left shoe to fit comfortably on the smaller foot! Still it’s a small price to pay to watch him indulge and succeed in his passion for all sports.
When Archie was seven years old he had an operation to release the tendons in his left foot in order to stop his foot curving inwards and to prevent him walking on the outside of his foot only, rather than on the whole of the sole. The op was estimated to take 40 minutes however he ended up in surgery for nearly three hours. I was beside myself. I think I’ve watched too many episodes of Casualty – and was thinking the worst, like most mums do. In the end it was a success, but months of physiotherapy followed. I used to bribe Archie with sushi, his favourite food, to encourage him to cooperate at his physio appointments – that and missing a bit of school always did the trick.
I’m so proud of Archie’s achievements, he is incredibly determined and he won’t let clubfoot beat him. He does nearly every sport going from rugby to skiing, even though he needs specially-made ski boots to compensate for the difference in the size of his feet.
Clubfoot is something people don’t know much about and we want to give it more exposure so people can understand what it is, and what advances need to be made. It sounds like something out of a Dickens novel but clubfoot actually affects around 1,000 children born every year in the UK. Not so many years ago a boy like Archie would have been condemned to life in callipers and the cruel social exclusion that would have gone with it.
Now treatments can be improved even further. They have already made developments in the 12 years since Archie was born and research plays a huge role in this. I’m also aware that there is virtually no government funding into lower limb disorder research and that it’s largely down to charities like Sparks, who funded one of the world’s largest studies into the disorder.”
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