Originally, we were planning on travelling around New Zealand as much as possible and collecting stories from families and doctors about their experiences with clubfoot. However, until just a few days before we left, our contacts were concentrated in in the northernmost part of the North Island. When we received a message from Tisha, who lives about six hours south of Auckland, we were elated. We now had a reason to see more of the country, as well as collect a wider variety of experiences.
The long drive from Matamata was well worth it. New Zealand’s winding roads through the world’s greenest hills quickly changed into views of a giant snow-capped mountain, transforming into cliffs and canyons, and finally into flat farm fields. It was hard to believe that so many different environments exist across one tiny country, let alone just the North Island. It was hard passing up the opportunity to stop at every turn to pull out our cameras and take pictures of the breath-taking views.
When we arrived in Palmerston North, Tisha’s home town, we settled into our Motel and called her almost immediately. She was so kind and hospitable; she came almost immediately to show us around the town and join us for dinner.
Over dinner we learned about Riley, Tisha’s son, who was born with clubfoot. It was very evident from the stories she told that she was incredibly passionate about getting him the best care. She was very concerned that the treatment he was receiving wasn’t progressing as it should. We reassured her, based on what we’d seen so far in New Zealand, that her son would be fine.
The next morning we drove to Tisha’s house, excited to meet Riley and hear more about Tisha’s clubfoot journey as a mother. Riley and Tisha welcomed us with big smiles in the front yard. I noticed the posititioning of Riley’s feet, turned somewhat inwards, causing him to walk on the outer edges. It was clear that his feet had responded partially to treatment, but compared to other children his age that we had seen, it was apparent that Tisha wasn’t just being a worried parent. Her concerns seemed valid.
What our expierence with Tisha and Riley taught us about New Zealand is that, although healthcare is free, the implementation of the Ponseti Method has the some of the same challenges here as it does in the US. After talking with Tisha about Riley’s treatment, it was apparent that Riley’s specialist may have created his own blend of the Ponseti Method. His method of casting and prescribed timing in the boots and bars was different than most cases we’ve seen. Furthermore, the doctor has Riley wearing custom-made orthotic shoes that look like “combat boots,” as Tisha says, until he is about 12 years old. Tisha knows that this isn’t the norm, but in a way, her hands are tied. Even though she lives in a well-populated town, she lives very far from Auckland and some of the more populated areas in the North, so getting other opinions or connecting with other mothers can be a challenge.
But there is a silver lining to all of this. At just under 3 years old, Riley is still young and hasn’t had to undergo any overly invasive surgeries that go beyond the scope of the Ponseti Method. He still has a lot of growing to do. Relapse, although unfortunate, isn’t uncommon among clubfoot patients. Every foot is different and responds differently to treatment. Riley’s case exemplifies this challenge. Additionally, Riley is a tough little boy, whose perserverence and determination is extremely obvious to any observer. His own strength will guide his success.
This was a particularly hard blog post to write. Tisha is a wonderful mom, incredibly in-touch with Riley’s well being, and is taking only the best steps to ensure that he has the most successful future. Zach and I don’t doubt for a second that Tisha will make sure Riley’s feet will be more than fine as his future unfolds. His feet, as is, aren’t overly severe and are showing signs of progress. Riley is so lucky – he couldn’t have a better mother. We departed Palmerston North feeling optimistic.
The next stop was Lake Taupo, where we spent the night. Lake Taupo was created by a massive volcanic eruption, which was so large, that ashes were found in ice cores all the way in Greenland. Standing on the edge of the lake, you feel like you on the edge of the Earth. The way the light reflects on the water makes the entire landscape feel surreal. Zach and I didn’t hesitate to pull the car over and take some photos.
The second most exciting thing about Lake Taupo had nothing to do with the view. It was the pizza. Zach and I were looking at a list of restaurants at the hotel we were staying at to figure out where to eat dinner, when we stumbled upon a menu for Hell’s Pizza. I was surprised to find that they offered gluten free crusts! For all of my family and friends reading this post, you can imagine how excited I was. The pizza from Hell was delicious. I went to sleep a happy person.