December 1, 2023

Eleven-year-old Lisa Marie has been speed skating for seven years. She’s already won eight medals in competitions at local speed skating clubs: three iron, four bronze and one gold. These accomplishments are even more inspiring given that the young athlete was born with a club foot on her right and a “crooked” left foot!

“When I was pregnant, my first ultrasound revealed what the medical team thought were two club feet. It was difficult news to hear. I’m a special education teacher and I’ve worked with children with Down’s syndrome. Given that Down’s syndrome often goes hand-in-hand with club feet, I asked for an amnio immediately. It was fairly early in my pregnancy and I couldn’t bear not knowing if my child possibly had more serious problems than those detected in the ultrasound,” explained Julie, Lisa Marie’s mother. Luckily, the amnio results gave the family the first bit of good news: the baby would be ok.

The delivery was another story. There were complications and after 23 hours of labour, the baby still wasn’t dropping into position. Was it because of the shape of her feet? “We’ll never know, but when my baby’s heartbeat started to slow, the doctors proceeded with an emergency c-section,” continued Julie. When Lisa Marie was finally born, the medical team announced the second bit of good news: the baby only had one club foot. The other foot had simply developed a little crooked and could be corrected with physiotherapy.

Julie knew that her child would be seen at the Shriners Hospital for Children – Canada. Immediately after her first ultrasound, her file had been sent to Dr. Thierry Benaroch, orthopedic surgeon and chief of staff. Lisa Marie was born on a Sunday and the following Friday she had her first appointment at the hospital.

Lisa Marie was fitted with her first cast which the Shriners medical team changed weekly until she was three months old. This series of casts was the first step in gradually correcting the foot’s position. The second step in treatment was surgery on Lisa Marie’s Achille’s tendon. Then, from the ages of three to six months, the infant wore an abduction bar 24 hours a day which is very difficult for babies because they love to move their little legs. But, despite the bar and the boots, Lisa Marie managed to flip over in her crib and was building strong thighs! She continued to wear the bar only at night from six months until she was two and a half. Walking came naturally to the child. On March 13, the day of her first birthday, Lisa Marie took her first steps with no signs of motor delays.

When she was two years old, she did her first 1 km race all on her own. It’s worth mentioning that Lisa Marie’s parents are avid 5 and 10 km race runners and these events often include a course especially for little kids. “I was immediately drawn to physical activities and my mom asked me if I’d like to try another sport. I danced for a couple of years, and then did soccer for another two years before trying speed skating. I was fascinated watching people skate so I learned how to skate with my dad. I started when I was five years old and haven’t stopped since,” shared Lisa Marie.

In her room is a shelf where she proudly displays all of her medals. Lisa Marie also loves horseback riding and is a great singer, a talent she gets to share every year at the school show.
“I’ll be in high school next year and I’m registered in the sports studies program so that means three hours of skating, five days a week.”

Because she wasn’t able to practice her sport as much during the pandemic, Lisa Marie experienced a slight reversal in her club foot. A club foot can be corrected but not cured so the condition must be monitored closely. Now that Lisa Marie has been on her skates these last few months, her foot has improved significantly and is only getting better. She’s not back to where she was before, but for now there’s no talk of a second surgery. After going through several tests at the Motion Analysis Center, the team deemed that there’s nothing pressing at this time.

“I’m so relieved that I don’t have to go through more surgery and rehab. I have the best doctor in the world: Dr. Benaroch. Thank you, doctor; you’ve changed my life! I have a message for people who are living with club feet: Don’t give up because anything is possible!” exclaims Lisa Marie.