Clubfoot treatment paves a different life for the next generation
In the Saptari district in Southeastern Nepal, close to the India border, Kumari and her family live in a small village down a narrow dirt road flanked by avocado trees and, just beyond, rectangular rice fields dotted with grazing cattle. Their house consists of an open courtyard and a short two-room mud building. In one corner of the courtyard a metal cooking pan and pile of sticks make up the kitchen. Kumari runs a small street food stall at the market where she sells chatpate – puffed rice snacks – to make money, while her husband, Pawan, makes a meager living by tending their neighbor’s cattle.
When Kumari was six years old, her mother passed away leaving her father to raise her and her little brother. Things were difficult to say the least. The family had very little income and all the household chores fell to her. She was never allowed to go to school, or even taught how to hold a pencil. Today, at 26, she can’t write or spell her name.
Losing a mother at such an early age and growing up in poverty is a heavy load for any child, but Kumari’s life had been particularly hard from the very start. She was born with bilateral clubfoot and never received treatment.
At 21, Kumari was married to Pawan, four years her senior. Pawan has a mental disability rendering him nearly deaf and his speech difficult to understand. While most marriages in Nepal are arranged, Kumari and Pawan were united on the criteria that they were both disabled.
“Since birth I had to endure a lot of troubles. The wounds made my life so difficult.”Kumari
Soon after they were married, Kumari and Pawan found out they were expecting. It was welcome news in some ways, but it also deeply worried Kumari. She knew she was not getting enough to eat while pregnant. “When you are pregnant you have to eat nutritious food and take care of yourself,” she said. “We had nothing in our house, so how could I eat properly?”
As her pregnancy progressed, her worries grew. Mostly, she worried about malnutrition, but also about what would happen when the baby arrived – how could she afford to feed another mouth? What if the baby needed medicine, how would she pay for it? Looking back, these seem small in comparison to the reality she faced when her son Aaryan was born.
Like Kumari, Aaryan was also born with bilateral clubfoot.
Mounting worries aside, Kumari and Pawan now had to face the stigma and scorn immediately instigated by their community when they brought Aaryan home from the hospital.
“It was like a fair in the village,” Kumari recalls. “People came from all over to see his disability and had all sorts of comments for me to hear. It hurt me to the core.”
Although painful, this cruel reception wasn’t a surprise to Kumari who was used to being teased, taunted, and looked down upon.
“People say so much ill about me and my family and comment on everything. I am not able to fight back; it’s a fight I will lose. Better to stay quiet and tolerate it.”
The only silver lining of the vulgar gossip was that Rita, a community health worker from the Hospital for Rehabilitation and Disabled Children (HRDC), MiracleFeet’s partner in Nepal, heard about Aaryan’s condition and set out to find him. Rita’s job is to locate and visit children in rural communities living with untreated clubfoot and prompt their parents take them to HRDC for treatment. She explained to Kumari that treatment would be provided for free, and that it would mean a life of possibilities for Aaryan – possibilities unavailable to Kumari.
Concerned about Aaryan’s future, and her family’s future, Kumari took him to a clubfoot clinic at HRDC’s satellite campus in Itahari, a two hour bus ride from their home. It was a journey they would make many times over the next few months. Each time Aaryan received fresh casts, and after several rounds, his feet began to straighten. The doctor taught Kumari exercises to stretch Aaryan’s feet and strengthen the muscles in his legs.
Kumari followed the guidance as best she could, but when she became pregnant with her second child, she was too tired and weak to make the journey to and from the clinic or stretch Aaryan’s feet like she used to. “I was pregnant again so I couldn’t continue,” she recalls. In turn, his feet relapsed. Rita, who regularly visits to check on Aayan’s progress and to bring the family essential supplies—rice, cooking oil, clothes, children’s books—noticed the relapse and helped get Aaryan back on track. Today Aaryan’s feet are once again straight, and he wears corrective shoes to prevent another relapse.
“I never expected his legs to be straight,” admits Kumari. “The doctors and the whole team have been very helpful. They are thoughtful about my son’s treatment, and even his future.”
Moving gracefully to the corner of the courtyard to start a fire she says: “I have a dream to make my son a doctor or an engineer, but I have just the dream and not the money.” As she pours oil into the pan she adds: “Even though my legs are not treated, I am really delighted that my son’s legs have been.”