Trading Doubt for Solace in the Waiting Room

April 11, 2024

When Eoun found out at six months pregnant that her unborn baby would be born with clubfoot, she felt a deep wave of dread. Unaware that the condition could be treated, her mind filled with troubling questions. How could her baby ever hope to live a normal life? How could the family, already struggling financially, afford to look after a disabled child? And, knowing that her neighbors would forever blame her for the baby’s condition, could she handle the shame? 

Finding no good answers to these questions,  Eoun seriously contemplated terminating the pregnancy.  “I was afraid she’d never be able to walk,” says  Eoun who lives in a small village in the Battambang province of Cambodia. “I thought she wouldn’t be able to do anything. I felt ashamed.”  

 Eoun, who already had three children, started looking for a doctor who could help, but soon discovered that terminating the pregnancy would cost far more than she had anticipated, more, in fact, than her husband’s salary at a local brewery could cover. Feeling out of options, she abandoned the plan and began to prepare herself for the challenges ahead.  

Her daughter, Maramy, entered the world in dramatic fashion three months later. After going into labor, Eoun set off on a motorbike for the nearest clinic, but it soon became clear she would never get there in time. When she realized she could go no further, she asked the driver to pull over and the baby was born on the side of the road. As the doctors had said, the newborn’s feet were indeed severely twisted.  

After she eventually made it to the clinic, medical staff explained to her that clubfoot was a treatable condition, but looking at Maramy’s contorted feet, she found that hard to believe. Besides, she wondered, even if treatment was possible, how could she ever afford it?  

Despite her doubts, Eoun followed the advice of the doctors and enrolled Maramy in treatment at a nearby Ponseti clubfoot clinic run by NextSteps, MiracleFeet’s partner in Cambodia. In charge of the clinic was a local physician, Dr. Duth, who has made it his mission to increase awareness of clubfoot in Cambodia and help ensure that treatment is available to anyone who needs it.

Duth says that it’s not at all uncommon for expectant mothers in Eoun’s position to terminate their pregnancies based on the mistaken belief that their child would never be able to live a normal life. To give people a more accurate understanding of the condition and to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to mean a life of disability, Duth makes educational videos about clubfoot which he shares on social media. 

For Eoun, the first weeks of Maramy’s treatment were tough. With her baby’s legs in plaster casts, Eoun found it hard to care for her. Keeping the casts dry was difficult, and simple tasks like changing diapers was a challenge. Plus Maramy was uncomfortable and finding it hard to sleep. And all the while, Eoun still worried that her daughter’s feet would never heal.  

That all changed a few weeks into the treatment process when, during a visit to the clinic, an older clubfoot patient came in for a checkup. “She was walking and running all by herself,” says Eoun, who for the first time began to see light at the end of the tunnel. “I became hopeful. Hopeful that one day Maramy could be like that.” Sure enough, with each weekly trip to the clinic  Maramy’s feet began to straighten, and Eoun’s enormous stress began to dissipate. 

A few weeks later, Maramy’s feet now fully straight, she moved on to the bracing phase of treatment, during which, to avoid relapse, patients must wear a foot abduction brace, initially for 23 hours a day. For the first two days, she cried relentlessly, but to her mother’s relief, she soon grew used to the brace. From then on, everything went smoothly. 

Maramy still wears her brace at night, but her feet are every bit as straight and strong as those of her three older sisters. 

“She can run, she can jump, she can ride a bicycle, she can help us move things around in the shop” says  Eoun, who recently opened a small grocery store selling snacks, toys, toiletries, and other essentials to the residents of her village. “She always wants to help and join in, even if I haven’t asked,” she adds with a smile.  

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As her mother talks, Maramy busies herself arranging jars of sweets on the shop’s counter before clambering on top of a cooler box in line with her sisters. She’s playful and inquisitive, with an irrepressible smile, and Eoun says she’s also extremely bright. “I’m so proud of her” she says.  

For now, Eoun’s main goal is to help her daughter get a good education and to learn useful skills that will set her up for success later in life. She has high hopes for Maramy’s future, and when she thinks back to the dark days after she first learned that her baby would be born with clubfoot, she feels an enormous sense of relief. 

“She’s such a good girl,” she says, beaming. “And her feet are the same as any other child.”

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