The cries of one-year-old Rheyviel Kate Bautista were among those that can be heard among children who were undergoing their regular treatment for clubfoot on Nov. 25.
Accompanied by her parents, Rheyviel was on her third session of treatment which involved putting on fresh cast that would help correct the deformity in her feet and soon would help her live like normal children do and be cured of her condition for the long term.
Her mother, Novelyn Bugtong Bautista, shared Rheyviel was born with clubfoot, a condition she was able to recognize after she gave birth.
Upon diagnosis, Rheyviel’s parents immediately sought treatment for her in a health facility in Quirino province, but for some reasons, the treatment was discontinued. It was then they came to watch a news report about a clubfoot patient who has been availing of a clubfoot program of Miracle Feet Foundation, which they thought they can also avail of to continue Rheyviel’s treatment.
But the closest clinic from which they could avail of the treatment is in Baguio City. Fortunately, Novelyn has a brother who has settled in Atok, Benguet, and it is where the family is currently staying and the nearest place they could be to Baguio General Hospital where Miracle Feet offers a clubfoot program.
Novelyn and her husband are hopeful the discomfort of their daughter would soon be due to happiness when she finally gets cured of clubfoot, which physicians assure can be treated, especially when detected and treated early.
Rheyviel is among the clubfoot children who were attended to in Baguio City as part of the ongoing global clubfoot training for resident physicians from different areas in Northern Luzon through the initiative of Miracle Feet Foundation and the Philippine NGO Council.
Orthopaedic surgeons Dr. JP Leung, who heads the clubfoot program for Benguet General Hospital in La Trinidad, Benguet, in partnership with Dr. Nick Suero who handles the program at the BGH, led the clubfoot basic training course for resident physicians, who are mainly orthopaedic residents or surgeons, and health workers from Baguio, Benguet; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya; Dagupan, Pangasinan; and San Fernando, La Union.
Leung said the training involves teaching residents how to recognize and assess clubfoot, how to plan for its treatment, and how to carry out the treatment which includes serial casting, surgical tenotomy, and brace application, together with health workers involved in the treatment.
“We teach them so that later on they will know what to do, and it is good to standardize training because normally when clubfoot treatment is taught in residency, it is not comprehensive,” Leung said.
He said the training is done for free and they usually do it in areas where there is an existing clubfoot program, where there are new residents, and also in areas that still do not have a clubfoot program but there are many clubfoot patients and there are those interested to learn in order to raise awareness and reach clubfoot patients.
The program is done on a regular basis. Every year, Leung said around 12 to 15 courses are conducted for healthcare providers, including lectures on early detection for barangay and community health workers so that they would be able to identify deformities and know where to refer patients.
As part of the program, Leung said they also encourage patients who have been treated, with their families, to tell their stories for other people in similar situation to learn they are not alone and they too can be treated.
The treatment is also provided free of charge through the support of the foundation and the doctors who do the treatment also do not charge fees.
Right now there are around 30 Miracle Feet programs in the country with seven in Northern Luzon.
“Awareness is important because our goal is to be able to improve clubfoot care in the Philippines and for the long term we would like to embed clubfoot treatment in the health program of the Department of Health so it will be accessible to all,” Leung said.
Based on their estimates, there are around 3,500 clubfoot patients born every year, but the government does not have a specific program for clubfoot.
“So we are trying to coordinate with them. Recently, we have had success where clubfoot was included in the expanded newborn screening program of the DOH, which means that they will now screen and have a referral system,” he said.
He added ideally they would like to have one or two clubfoot programs per provincial hospital and to also make sure it is covered by PhilHealth since right now it covers parts of treatment but not integrated like other covered health treatment packages.
Chi Laigo Vallido, PNGOC executive director, said through the basic training, they are hoping that once new surgeons complete their residency, they will be able to practice and continue clubfoot treatment in their respective areas so they will be closer to where the children needing treatment are.
“There is a clubfoot baby born every three hours, and we have only 30 clinics in the country so how can they even reach the facilities that we are providing for free since there are only few? We also have cases where they have to travel for many hours, some have to cross seas and travel for eight hours,” Vallido said.
The Miracle Feet program currently attends to 105 patients in Baguio and around 80 in Benguet. The treatment is free, and in some cases where the patient’s family has an indigency form, the program may shoulder their transportation expenses for them to be able to avail and continue treatment.
“As we celebrated Children’s Month, we always advocate for inclusivity. We have to make the society aware that there are children born with physical challenges so that when they are introduced in society, we are able to prepare kids to know about other kids that are not like them and accept them as part of society,” she said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana