In the 1950s, the University of Iowa was the setting for groundbreaking work being done on the condition of clubfoot, a congenital deformity which causes an infant’s foot or feet to turn inward. When left untreated, the condition — which affects one in every thousand births, the vast majority of which are in developing countries — can make walking incredibly difficult and painful.
Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, a Spanish-American physician and faculty member at the UI, developed a method that has become one of the predominant treatments for clubfoot. The Ponseti Method is both nonsurgical and less expensive than other methods, which made it a boon for patients in countries that lacked resources.
In the 2019 book Clubfoot, locally published by Ice Cube Press, Thomas M. Cook, PT, Ph.D., a senior advisor to the Ponseti International Association and also a UI professor emeritus, explored Ponseti’s history and work. But the condition of clubfoot is most commonly treated in young children. So it seems inevitable that Cook published a companion to that history last year: Lucky’s Feet, a children’s book that takes a personal look at one boy’s experience with clubfoot and the Ponseti Method.
Lucky’s Feet comes out of the Coralville-based nonprofit Clubfoot Solutions, Inc., and was printed locally, too, at Tru Art Color Graphics in Iowa City (full disclosure: I also work for TACG’s sister company, Bankers Advertising). It’s a slim paperback lush with the beautiful watercolor illustrations of Iowa artist Jo Myers-Walker — a deeply Iowan effort from start to finish.
But it also benefits from Cook’s co-author, Olayinka O. Adegbehingbe, MD, a Ponseti mentee who heads the Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology department at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, Nigeria. It was Adegbehingbe who treated the deformities of the book’s protagonist, a young boy given the nickname As’ad, or “Lucky,” by his sister after undergoing the Ponseti Method to correct his clubfoot at age 8.
The book is told first person from Lucky’s perspective (although it is only based on his story, admitting to creative liberties taken). It covers the challenges of being born with a deformity in a developing country, where he was viewed as a burden to his family because of his inability to contribute.
He ends up living with his grandmother, who both cares for him and oversees his treatment. It details, accessibly, at a child’s level, the process of the Ponseti Method: the series of casts, changed weekly, that slowly adjust the direction of Lucky’s feet and enable him to walk again. It’s a warm, joyful story with end materials for parents that briefly go deeper into the method and Ponseti, and point to further resources.
Myers-Walker’s illustrations are the heavy hitters of Lucky’s Feet. The gorgeous colors bring Lucky’s landscape to life, and the tender treatment of the clubfoot condition reveal a generous and gentle approach. Altogether, it’s a sweet and simple book, perfect for older siblings of infants undergoing clubfoot treatment or for teachers looking to bring diverse personal stories into the classroom.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 290.