James Forbes: Treatment Innovations Bring Welcome Relief After Lifelong Challenges with Clubfoot
Thirty-four-year-old James Forbes was born with bilateral clubfoot, a fairly common genetic condition affecting 1 in 750 children worldwide where one or both feet are rotated inward and downward at birth.1 As a result, James spent much of his early childhood in and out of surgery and in casts as doctors worked to correct the positioning of his feet. Although the pain was somewhat manageable during childhood, it became more debilitating into adulthood as his symptoms worsened. James’s desire to keep up with his three active children prompted him to find a solution, which led him to the team at Hanger Clinic in Big Rapids, Michigan. As he learned more about recent advancements in bracing, he was impressed and saw immediate results, standing without pain for the first time in over 16 years.
Early Treatment for Clubfoot
Born with clubfoot, James Forbes spent the first year-and-a-half of his life in casts as doctors worked to correct the positioning of his feet. By his third birthday, he had undergone eight surgeries, with many more ahead of him.
In school, James was able to participate in some activities with his friends, but as the years passed, it became more difficult for him to keep up with the others.
“I could only play for half the time before the pain would get to me and my feet would swell up,” he explains.
Limited by Worsening Symptoms
As James got older, he developed arthritis in his joints and ankles, which made his condition worse. He had surgeries to implant an artificial arch and to treat his arthritis, which unfortunately did not bring him the relief he needed to work consistently and to keep up with his young children.
“I was miserable,” he admits. “I wasn’t able to run around and do normal things with them. I was watching from the sidelines.”
Seven years ago, he reached a point where he thought he had tried every non-invasive treatment option that was recommended. He was told that the last resort was to get total ankle replacement surgery on both feet, something that would require him to relearn how to walk.
Finding Hope at Hanger Clinic
Not one to give up, James’s wife encouraged him to do some research on his own to see what other treatment options might be available. He followed her advice and discovered a Facebook group for people living with clubfoot.
For the first time, James was able to hear about the experiences of others going through similar challenges. It was eye-opening for him and inspired him to continue to learn more about how other people were finding relief for clubfoot.
“A couple of months back, I started seeing posts where people mentioned Hanger Clinic,” he says.
Curious, he did a quick internet search and realized there was a Hanger Clinic not far from his home in Michigan. He spent hours reading more about his condition and watching videos about new bracing technology that helps with clubfoot.
The Journey to Pain-Free Mobility
At Hanger Clinic in Big Rapids, Michigan, James met certified orthotist, Lance Weersma. For years, James had been frustrated by doctor visits that didn’t result in relief, so he was amazed by his appointment with Lance, who knew all the details of his story.
“It was clear that James cared a lot for his family and not being able to spend active time with them was taking its toll on him physically and emotionally,” said Lance. “I knew we had to do something to help him.”
Lance was referring to custom-made carbon fiber ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs), which are designed to correct foot position, shape, and functional use.
“With the use of these highly-customized AFOs, we have the ability to offload, or distribute, pressure through James’s lower legs rather than his feet. We also took into consideration that these AFOs needed to be comfortable and durable, with sport-like performance and appealing cosmetics,” said Lance.
James was excited about the potential of these devices but knew he would need insurance approval to move forward. Lance went above and beyond for James, helping to advocate for James with his insurance company, which ultimately agreed to pay for the devices in full.
“I was so relieved,” says James. “It was such a surprise and was nothing close to what I was expecting. It was amazing.”
A New Lease on Life
After a casting appointment and a couple of weeks of fabrication, it was time for James to try on his new AFOs.
“Lance was already in the lobby eagerly awaiting our arrival, so he could whisk us back to the fitting room,” says Kayla, James’s wife.
James and his wife spent more than two hours at Hanger Clinic that day while Lance adjusted the braces to ensure they fit properly, and once they did, James couldn’t believe the difference.
“By the time I walked out of there, the braces were almost unnoticeable,” he says. “There was virtually no pain. I am still ecstatic, and sometimes I still can’t believe how quickly I saw an improvement.”
Now James can take walks with his family around their farmhouse and keep up with his kids when they play together. Everyday errands–like stopping into the grocery store–that were once unmanageable have become easy and pain-free.
Recently, he even ran around his yard without any pain—for the first time in 16 years.
“It was amazing,” he says. “There is so much of a burden taken off me.”
As he continues to increase his mobility, he’s looking forward to doing more with his family and exploring career paths that weren’t possible before due to his limitations.
“This is just the start of James’s next chapter,” said Lance. “When I saw him for his follow-up, he was in much less pain and in many ways is now able to experience the world in a new way. He will continue to do great things.”
Sharing Hope with Others
James knows that if he can get relief after decades of pain, others with bilateral clubfoot can, too. He encourages people to take the time to research treatment options because there is hope out there.
“I am so happy with the way everything turned out,” he says. “I am so grateful to Hanger Clinic. I owe them a lot.”
1. Wynne-Davies R. Genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of talipes equinovarus. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1972;84: 9-13.
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