Among the thousands of children affected by the war in Ukraine is Yustina, a 2-year-old girl with a sweet smile who relies on a relationship with Iowa.
Justina recently treated clubfoot through the non-surgical Ponceti method developed decades ago at the University of Iowa, which has gained worldwide popularity.She has gradually repositioned her foot into the correct position by applying a series of plaster casts by a Ukrainian doctor trained in the method.
Now that the cast is off, she has to sleep every night until she’s 4, wearing what’s called the Iowa Brace.The device is equipped with special shoes at each end of a sturdy nylon rod that keeps her feet stretched and in the correct position.This is an important part of making sure the clubfoot condition doesn’t recur and she can grow with normal mobility.
When her father quit his job to join the fight against the Russian invaders, Justina and her mother fled to a small village near the unfriendly Belarusian border.She is wearing the Iowa Brace now, but will need to gradually increase in size as she grows.
Her story comes from a Ukrainian medical supplies dealer named Alexander who worked closely with Clubfoot Solutions, an Iowa nonprofit that provides braces.Licensed by UI, the group designed the modern version of the brace, delivering around 10,000 units a year to children in about 90 countries — more than 90 percent of which are affordable or free.
Becker is the Managing Director of Clubfoot Solutions, assisted by his wife Julie.They work from their home in Bettendorf and store around 500 braces in the garage.
“Alexander is still working with us in Ukraine, just to help children,” Becker said.”I’ve told him we’ll take care of them until the country is back up and running. Sadly, Alexander was one of those who were given guns to fight.”
Clubfoot Solutions has shipped about 30 Iowa braces to Ukraine for free, and they have more planned if they can get to Alexander safely.The next shipment will also include small stuffed bears from a Canadian company to help cheer up the kids, Becker said.Each cub wears a replica of an Iowa bracket in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
“Today we received one of your packages,” Alexander wrote in a recent email to the Beckers.”We are very grateful to you and our Ukrainian children! We will give priority to the citizens of the hard-hit cities: Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv, etc.”
Alexander provided the Beckers with photos and short stories of several other Ukrainian children, like Justina, who were being treated for clubfoot and needed braces.
“Three-year-old Bogdan’s house was damaged and his parents had to spend all their money to fix it,” he wrote.”Bogdan is ready for the next size Iowa Brace, but has no money. His mother sent a video telling him not to be afraid of the shells going off.”
In another report, Alexander wrote: “For five-month-old Danya, 40 to 50 bombs and rockets fell on his city Kharkov every day. His parents had to be evacuated to A safer city. They don’t know if their house is destroyed.”
“Alexander has a clubfoot child, like many of our partners abroad,” Becker told me.”That’s how he got involved.”
Although the information was sporadic, Becker said he and his wife heard from Alexander again via email this week when he ordered 12 more pairs of Iowa braces in different sizes.He described his “erratic” situation but added “we will never give up”.
“Ukrainians are very proud and don’t want handouts,” Becker said.”Even in that last email, Alexander said again that he wanted to repay us for what we did, but we did it for free.”
Clubfoot Solutions sells braces to dealers in wealthy countries at full price, then uses those profits to offer free or significantly reduced braces to others in need.Becker said a $25 donation to the nonprofit through its website, www.clubfootsolutions.org, will cover the cost of traveling to Ukraine or other countries that need a brace.
“There’s a lot of demand around the world,” he said.”It’s hard for us to leave any trace in it. Every year about 200,000 children are born with clubfoot. We’re working hard right now in India, which has about 50,000 cases a year.”
Founded in Iowa City in 2012 with support from UI, Clubfoot Solutions has distributed approximately 85,000 braces worldwide to date.The stent was designed by three faculty members who continued the work of the late Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, who pioneered non-surgical treatment here in the 1940s.The three are Nicole Grossland, Thomas Cook and Dr. Jose Morquand.
With help from other UI partners and donors, the team was able to develop a simple, effective, inexpensive, high-quality brace, Cook said.The shoes have a comfortable synthetic rubber lining, sturdy straps instead of velcro to keep them in place all night, and are designed to make them more socially acceptable to parents and children – an important question.The bars between them are removable for easy putting on and taking off the shoes.
When it came time to find a manufacturer for Iowa Brace, Cook said, he removed BBC International’s name from a shoe box he saw at a local shoe store and emailed the company to explain what was needed.Its president, Don Wilburn, called back immediately.His company in Boca Raton, Florida, designs shoes and imports nearly 30 million pairs a year from China.
BBC International maintains a warehouse in St. Louis that maintains an inventory of up to 10,000 Iowa braces and handles drop shipping for clubfoot solutions as needed.Becker said DHL has already offered discounts to support the delivery of braces to Ukraine.
The unpopularity of the Ukraine war even prompted Russia’s Clubfoot Solutions partners to donate to the cause and ship their own supply of braces to Ukraine, Becker reported.
Three years ago, Cook published a comprehensive biography of Ponceti.He also recently wrote a paperback children’s book called “Lucky Feet,” based on the true story of Cook, a clubfoot boy he met in Nigeria.
The boy moved around by crawling until the Ponceti method readjusted his feet.By the end of the book, he normally walks to school.Cook provided the voice for the video version of the book at www.clubfootsolutions.org.
“At one point, we shipped a 20-foot container to Nigeria with 3,000 braces in it,” he told me.
Before the pandemic, Morcuende traveled abroad an average of 10 times a year to train doctors in the Ponseti method and hosted 15-20 visiting doctors a year for training at the university, he said.
Cook shook his head at what was happening in Ukraine, glad that the nonprofit he worked with was still able to provide braces there.
“These kids didn’t choose to be born with clubfoot or in a war-torn country,” he said.”They’re like kids everywhere. What we’re doing is giving kids around the world a normal life.”
Post time: May-18-2022