Feet First charity goes from strength to strength

Feet First Worldwide was founded in 2004 by Spire Fylde Coast orthopaedic surgeon Steve Mannion.

It treats and prevents physical disability worldwide through not only time and personal medical expertise but also, and somewhat more importantly, by the ability to train and educate the local medical personnel on important techniques and methods.

With several visits each year to places such as Malawi, Laos and Papua New Guinea, Steve and his team’s aims are quite simple, to roll out and manage a worldwide programme consisting of improving the recognition of musculoskeletal conditions such as club foot and implementing change by introducing diagnostic techniques and methods of treatment.

Steve explains of the charity: “Having spent a number of years working full time in Malawi it was clear that there were fundamental problems in the diagnosis and treatment of a hugely common problem for the people of the area. In less developed world countries such as Malawi it is absolutely vital that each person has the ability and health to work and provide for their families. Previously either treatment was not available at all or was ineffective.

"The charity has seen a distinct increase in awareness and number of volunteers over the past few years and Steve continues, “The health system in these affected areas is run by health workers doing their very best with limited resources. To have the opportunity to return year on year with supplies and equipment is an honour. The difference we are now seeing is astronomical and with the correct attention and continued help we are battling the problem of clubfoot and other forms of physical disability very successfully.”

Steve’s team continues to grow year on year and each person must be self funded and willing to work hard in a very tough and intense environment.

Awareness that there was a problem with the treatment of club foot in Malawi was the first step, with the emphasis being on early recognition and prompt referral for treatment.

As a child grows older and begins to walk on the clubfoot the bones become secondarily deformed making correction more difficult. If treatment begins within the first two years in life the foot can be corrected by serial manipulation and plaster casting, by what is known as the Ponseti technique.

This avoids the need for complex, invasive surgery and leads to a more functional, supple, pain free foot in later life.

Local health workers are now trained in the Ponseti technique and importantly do not rely so heavily on the intervention of the team from Feet First. However, continued regular visits and further training sessions are required to keep the on site teams educated and motivated.

Bernie Huyton, a senior theatre sister from Spire Fylde Coast Hospital has been a member of the Feet First Malawi Project team for the past five years. She said: “I have worked with Steve for a number of years and we have discussed extensively Feet First’s work in these deprived areas. After my first visit I was 100% adamant that I would return in subsequent years and am very much looking forward to our visit in June 2013.

"To see the reaction of the local people when we arrive is astonishing and it is very rewarding to see the improvement in the patients we operate upon and the development of the skills of the local healthcare staff to deal with these disabling conditions. We are always looking for more volunteers, not only for the clinical work we do overseas but also for fundarising on which our projects depend." The operation in Malawi is run on the ground by Steve’s partner Mercy Nkhalamba.