My name is Brian. I was born on November 9, 1972 with severe bilateral clubfeet. I don’t remember much about my early childhood.
I was told by my parents that I underwent numerous surgeries the first year of my life and had to wear full leg casts for close to 2 years. My parents told me stories about never really learning to crawl, I just propped myself up on the casts and learned to walk that way.
Every month my mother had to soak off my casts in the bathtub because it scared me so much to have them cut off at the doctors office. For those first 2 years I went every month for new casts. After the casts stopped, I moved into braces. I do remember being paraded around at medical conferences and having to stand on tables so other doctors could inspect my ankles. I can just remember starting grade school having to wear corrective shoes. While all the other kids got to wear the latest cool tennis shoes, I had to wear these ugly brown leather shoes. The teasing really started full force at this stage in my young life.
Not only were they strange looking shoes for a little kid to wear. They looked like they were on the wrong foot. The really sad part was not only did the other kids make fun of the shoes and call me names for “having them on the wrong foot”; every time I got a new teacher, or went to a new friends house, the adults would insist that my shoes were on the wrong foot and have me switch them. From an early age, shoe shopping was torturous. My feet have always been short and very wide. My current shoe size is about a 7.5 H. Not to many companies make shoes in that size. As I got older and more aware of image and looking cool, I battled my parents endlessly about wearing the braces and corrective shoes. I eventually won out and started wearing tennis shoes around the 2nd or 3rd grade. The highlight of my childhood was when my parents bought me a pair of Converse Magic Johnson basketball shoes.
I remember having a normal childhood in terms of being active. I remember running and playing like all the other kids. My doctor, Dr. Gabriel in Mishawaka Indiana, (I think that’s how he spelled his name…he has since past away) would always tell me in his very think accent “Brian, you will never be able to play sports, you should be thankful to be able to walk”. Instead of calling my mother by her name, he would always call her “mother”. He would tell her “mother, if he wants to play sports, let him try, but don’t be disappointed”. So I played sports. I played Little League baseball from tee ball all the way through the senior leagues. Every age bracket that had an All Star team, I made the team. I played every sport available in junior high. In high school I focused on football and track (shot put and discus). I lettered in both sports and even received an award for making a post season all star team in football. It’s kind of funny looking back now.
The level of effort I had to give to be able to play sports was easily 10 times more than the average healthy kid. But because of my clubfeet, I couldn’t run quite as fast or as far as the other kids. Sometimes when it was really bad, I would have to sit out because I couldn’t walk unaided. When I was feeling good, I usually limped because of the pain. I had to have my ankles taped for every football practice and game I played in high school. I would hobble around school during the day because of the stiffness and pain. I learned to walk like a penguin when my ankles hurt so bad a couldn’t bend them front to back. The non-coaching teachers would wonder out loud why in the world I would want to play football if I had to walk around like that every day. But even with all I did, and because of the lack of knowledge by most people about clubfeet and how it effects your ability to move, I was still labeled a “wimp” or a “faker” or a “quitter” by my coaches and teammates. That was the hardest thing to deal with. Being teased was nothing, I got used to it. But giving everything I had and more, to the point that my feet and ankles would simply not move, and still being called a quitter, that was really painful. According to the coaches, I was never giving it 100%. When in reality, I was giving it 500%.
I could only stand so much pain before my body gave out. My shin splints would be so severe while running that I couldn’t rotate my feet up and down. My feet would always hang, toes pointing at the ground, when my foot was off the ground This would cause me to fall behind (it’s tough to run when you can’t rotate your foot) and get yelled at by the coaches. As time went on, I stayed active in sports and outdoor activities. In college I could still run and play in the rec sports leagues. I’m 35 now and I’ve been a police officer for 13 years.
For the last several years I been noticing a steady decline in my ability to be active. The pain that has been with me for all of my life, that feeling of always having a mild sprain, has been replaced. Now, when I play in the yard with my kids (thank God they don’t have clubfeet) or try to go for a run, the pain is instant and severe. The recovery used to be a day or two of stiffness and intense pain. Now, it’s constant stiffness and extreme pain to the point of having trouble walking up and down the stairs. I have so much arthritis and scare tissue built up in my ankle that they barely rotate.
When I walk barefoot, I look like a 95 year old man. The future is kind of scary. I’m only 35 and I’m experiencing this kind of pain and disability. What will it be like when I’m 40, 45, 50. There’s not a whole lot that can be done except take it day to day and try to make the best of it. One thing I can say about living with clubfeet. My pain tolerance is through the roof!
To the parents of kids with clubfeet. I can’t begin to imagine your pain as you watch your baby grow into adolescence suffering the kind of pain I know all to well But never give in to that desire to protect them and their clubfeet. Let them experience the world for everything it has to offer. Clubfeet should never be a reason to not do something. It should be a reason to try even harder to achieve everything!