In 2005, Karen was confronted with a traumatic event that would change the course of her life and impact the lives of others, including specialists in the medical fraternity.
Her son was born with a congenital birth defect, clubfoot, where tendons attaching the muscle to bone are shorter than usual causing the foot to point downwards and inwards. Her shock was further amplified by the fact that the only treatment available in South Africa, at the time, involved invasive surgery with lifelong complications. However, if left untreated, this could develop into a permanent disability.
It was then that she explored alternative treatments beyond SA borders. During her search for a solution in the USA, she found the Ponseti method which involves the gentle manipulation of the foot using castings. This approach showed results within a few weeks. Her journey of hope began.
Having a non-invasive and cost-effective solution for the more than 2000 babies in South Africa being born with this defect every year, Karen felt compelled, as a mother, to reach out to these children.
She charted a course to champion this treatment in Southern Africa and established STEPS, her Charity Organisation. With no medical background nor experience in running an NPO, she began steering the medical fraternity towards adopting the Ponseti Method as a best practice. Today, resulting from Karen’s influence, the Ponseti method is the preferred and Medical Aid accepted treatment for clubfoot in Southern Africa. It has now been taught in medical schools for over 10 years.
To date, STEPS has trained 1200 doctors and rescued thousands of children from becoming permanently disabled. Her Clubfoot Care Programme supports 35 public health clinics, providing staff training and educational plus emotional support for parents. Her children’s book My Clever Night Night Shoes, translated into 5 languages, is an inspiring and comforting story that describes the exciting jobs different shoes have, and that wearing the brace enables them to do anything they want to.
Desiring to proactively address this condition, Karen enabled the collection of anonymous data to detect trends, allowing for prompt reaction to increased occurrences. This system and other STEPS approaches have other similar organizations and doctors looking at drawing inspiration from her ideas to improve on their existing programmes.
The tremendous extent to which STEPS has made an impact was carried out amid a strenuous battle for funding. As South Africa is facing many challenges in poverty, inequality, education and unemployment, STEPS continues to develop creative ways to enable the donations of braces, support for children and parents, raising of funds and advocacy initiatives.
Her compassion is the driving force behind successfully navigating through unchartered waters with perseverance and agility. Karen is determined to push on and ensure that every child with clubfoot is reached, as she had promised the late Dr Ponseti.