Orange County

$5M MiracleFeet grant advances mission to end crippling clubfoot

Roughly one in 800 children are born with clubfoot, a congenital disease that can run in families. The disease causes the feet to turn in and up, crippling the children.
Roughly one in 800 children are born with clubfoot, a congenital disease that can run in families. The disease causes the feet to turn in and up, crippling the children. Contributed

They can’t guarantee children a happy life, but a $5 million grant to MiracleFeet will help them put their best foot forward.

The Oak Foundation grant will provide the Carrboro nonprofit with $1 million a year for five years, enough to help at least 20,000 children with clubfoot, said Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld, executive director and co-founder.

Roughly one in 800 children are born with the congenital, often hereditary disease that causes feet to turn up and in. No one really knows the cause, but children who aren’t treated can face a crippled life of extreme poverty, Colloredo-Mansfeld said.

“If you’re born with clubfoot in a country like India, and you don’t get treatment, there is incredible stigma around physical deformity,” she said. “Kids are isolated, they’re hidden away in houses, they tend to not go to school. Because they’re hidden away and isolated, they tend to be at high risk for physical and sexual abuse, neglect, they tend not to get fed properly.”

It also can be a struggle for mothers, who may have to convince their families to seek treatment or are abandoned by the father, who blames the mother for having a disabled baby, Colloredo-Mansfeld said. Some parents sacrifice everything so their child can walk, she said, like the mother who fainted from hunger after bringing her baby to the clinic. She had stopped eating so she could pay for the bus trip.

A group of American parents whose children were born with clubfoot started MiracleFeet seven years ago. It raises money to train and equip clinics and hospitals in remote parts of the world to identify patients, get them to the clinic and treat them.

They use the Ponseti method, which starts with gentle manipulation of the tendons and ligaments in the foot, followed by a series of weekly casts to straighten the feet. The Achilles tendon is cut and a final cast is applied for three weeks while the tendon regrows. The child wears a brace at night for about five years.

The procedure is easy to perform and is successful in 95 percent of cases, Colloredo-Mansfeld said. It costs about $250 per child.

“Because they only wear the brace at night, as the kid grows up, they learn to crawl, they learn to walk, they go to school, they can play sports, no one would ever know they had any issue with their feet,” she said.

MiracleFeet has trained medical staff in 19 countries and helped more than 23,000 children, she said. They are starting to combine resources with other small agencies through the Global Clubfoot Initiative to serve even more countries, she said.

The Oak Foundation – a Geneva, Switzerland-based philanthropy with a U.S. office in Chapel Hill – is a longtime supporter, but MiracleFeet also relies on private donations and received a $1 million Google grant last year. An $85,250 award from the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2015 is helping to produce and test a new, less-expensive brace.

However, they’re still a long way from their $10 million a year goal, Colloredo-Mansfeld said.

“In the world of public health, when you think about all the problems that the world is facing, they’re so complex, and this one isn’t complex – it’s relatively straightforward – and for a relatively small investment, we can solve it,” she said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb