Eight-year-old Giabella Hagerman is a speedster on the soccer field and on the base paths. Nobody would guess that she learned to run while wearing a metal brace between her feet.
She was born with clubfoot, a deformity in which her feet were turned inward and pointed down. Her parents, Brian and Amy Hagerman, learned from an ultrasound when Amy was 20 weeks pregnant that both Giabella’s feet were contorted.
Brian recalled reading horror stories on the internet.
“You start aching inside for the child you haven’t had yet,” he said.
The Lorain County couple said Dr. Mark Adamczyk, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Akron Children’s, gave them hope.
Director of the hospital’s Clubfoot Clinic, Dr. Adamczyk told them a method involving a series of casts and a brace has great success correcting clubfoot. Called the Ponseti method, it involves gradually manipulating the feet into the correct position and then bracing the feet for several years to keep them stable.
He put Giabella in casts at one week old, and changed the casts weekly for about six weeks. The fifth of six Hagerman children, Giabella underwent a minor surgery of her Achilles tendons to allow her ankles to flex. With clubfoot, the Achilles tendon is too short. The surgery, called tenotomy, involves a very small cut to release the tightness.
Giabella wore the braces 23 hours a day at first, then 12 hours until age 4. Keeping her in a brace was taxing at times, they said, but worth it.
“She learned to walk in the brace and jump in the brace,” Amy said. “I think it made her core so strong, she literally has abs.”
It also shaped her character.
“She’s so determined to succeed at whatever she does,” Amy said. “She had to work for whatever she wanted.”
The couple hopes to use their experience to launch a blog or website to help other families.
Clubfoot is one of the more common congenital birth defects. In about half the cases, both feet are affected.
“Sometimes it runs in families, but it doesn’t have to,” Dr. Adamczyk said. “Generally, it can be detected on ultrasound. I do a lot of prenatal visits for clubfoot.”
The Clubfoot Clinic handles cases from all over Ohio, averaging about 140 patients under age 5 at any given time, Dr. Adamczyk said.
Most cases can be corrected in about six to eight weeks with proper and gentle manipulations of the foot, before bracing.
To learn more about the Clubfoot Clinic, call 330-543-3500.