Health Beat: Clubfoot: Most common birth defect you've never heard of

Health Beat: Clubfoot: Most common birth defect you've never heard of

BALTIMORE - It's the most common congenital birth defect you probably know nothing about, affecting one in 500 babies. A diagnosis of clubfoot can be frightening, so parents should be aware of what to expect from clubfoot.

Comedian Damon Wayans, quarterback Troy Aikman and Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi all share the same condition. Baby Kilian Ferner has it, too.

They have clubfoot, a common birth defect affecting boys twice as often as girls. It's something Kilian's mom had never heard of.

"I thought the word clubfoot was really scary. I thought it meant that they had this foot that didn't work, and it followed behind them, and they dragged it with them wherever they went," said Erin Ferner, Kilian's mom.

With clubfoot, one or both feet are twisted inward. 

"It's a lot of fear and it's a lot of wondering if he will be okay," Ferner said.

With advances in treatment, however, Dr. John Herzenberg said it's nothing to be afraid of.

"Yes, your child will be able to grow up, play sports, and do just about anything he wants," said Herzenberg, director of pediatric orthopedics, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

The best treatment option is the Ponseti method, which uses a series of casts over several months to straighten the foot.

"It's kind of like braces on your teeth, where you move it slowly, little by little, about ten degrees every week until the foot is twisted out," Herzenberg said.

You can see the difference after six months. Kilian had seven casts in all, each telling a story.

"Each week there was a different quote about how we overcame whatever we had to cross that week.  For example, one said, 'this one is my last one. This makes my mommy happy because she can't wait to hold and kiss my little feet.'" Ferner explained.

Now, little Kilian can follow along in his big brother's footsteps when he's ready.

Herzenberg said once out of the casts, babies with clubfoot then must wear special shoes for three months to keep their feet in the right place. Then, they just need them at night until age four.

The Ponseti method was once only used for newborn babies. Now, it's also being used in developing countries to help older children with clubfeet return to normal.

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