Eulogy for Dr Ponseti

Karen Moss wrote this eulogy for Dr Ponseti on his passing in 2009.

eulogyI am incredibly sad about the passing of Dr Ponseti,  nobody can ever replace what he meant to me.  He gave me hope for my baby when I was at my lowest despair and the way he lived his life is a constant inspiration to me.

My husband Steve and I travelled with our 10-week-old baby boy Alex after just one phone conversation with Dr Ponseti.  He was so sure that our son’s bilateral clubfoot could be treated without surgery, that I trusted he could do it and so we travelled 10,000 miles to see him.  At that time, there was no doctor in our country who could treat Alex without major surgery.

On meeting Dr Ponseti for the first time in 2003 when he was 89 years old, I was struck by his gentleness and warmth.  He was serious about examining Alex’s feet, gave us all his attention and asked many questions.  Dr Ponseti had a way of treating every patient with respect, whether baby or parent.  He made sure that Alex was comfortable and had toys to distract him while the casting took place.  He explained everything that he was doing.  Everything was calm and done with an air of such expertise that all the worry I’d had about Alex’s feet since giving birth dissolved and for the first time in 10 weeks I felt hope and true happiness that we were in the right place.

We were the first South Africans at the UI Children’s Hospital’s clubfoot clinic.  Dr Ponseti told us that Africa was very close to his heart, particularly South Africa, as studies had shown that the incidence of clubfoot was 2-3 times more than the worldwide average.

I asked him why, after more than 50 years of him developing his method, we had to fly half way around the world for treatment.  I couldn’t understand why our surgeons hadn’t embraced it.  It was then that I saw another side to Dr Ponseti – his passionate belief in his method.  He gave me a very  determined look and said “it is usually the mothers who introduce my method into their countries”.   He asked his secretary Joyce Roller to give us a whole lot of papers and CD’s to take home with information on his method. He gave us a copy of his book and inscribed it “To Alex, for a wonderful life, I.V. Ponseti”.  I promised Dr Ponseti that I would do everything I could to make sure that his method got to South Africa.

16 days after meeting Dr Ponseti, we were on our way home with a baby boy with beautiful straight feet.  Not only did Dr Ponseti have a wonderful impact on the quality of my son’s life, he inspired me to work for the betterment of clubfoot treatment in my country.  I knew I had a promise to keep to him and he encouraged me with kind and wise words by phone or email whenever I needed it.  We had a correspondence that spanned a few years and I couldn’t have achieved what I did without his ongoing support.

I was privileged to see Dr Ponseti again in 2007 at the International Clubfoot Symposium in Iowa. The symposium had an international focus and so many countries were represented.  It’s wonderful that he had so much recognition for his work while he lived, even though it took a while coming.  We flew the 10,000 miles again with four-year-old Alex who ran on his strong supple feet in the Ponseti races with other children treated by Dr Ponseti   After the race, there was a party for the children and parents and Dr Ponseti invited me to sit at his table.  In his soft-spoken Spanish accent, he told me again that he was so happy that I had had success in bringing his method to South Africa.  He listened carefully to my feedback and asked me to please keep on giving him updates of our progress.  He told me that if he was younger and able to travel long-distance, he would have loved come to Africa to visit us. He laughed at Alex and remembered that he’d been a feisty little baby who was now a feisty little boy.  I really believe that Dr Ponseti remembered every single baby or child that he treated, they were all special little people to him.

I will always remember Dr Ponseti as he was that day in September 2007.  We laughed a lot, he was surrounded by the happy children and their parents, his wife Helen next to him – he had a twinkle in his eye and a constant smile on his face.

Karen Moss, mother to Alex (born January 2003, treated by Dr Ponseti in April 2003)