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Lights, Camera and Action

2 May, 2019

The Orthopaedic service at Whangārei Hospital could have been mistaken for the set of Shortland Street in early April when one of their regular patients used the space to film a scene for a short film they are submitting to the 2019 Focus on Ability Short Film Festival in Australia.

Maria Thompson and her eight month old son Braxton have been visiting the service for regular treatment after Braxton was born with talipes equinovarus or club foot.

Club foot is when one or both feet are rotated inwards and downwards. It is a congenital condition, which means it is present at birth.

About 7-8 in every 1000 Māori/Pacific Island live births have talipes, compared to two in every 1000 Pakeha/European live births. Whāngarei hospital's Orthopaedic Service holds weekly talipes clinics run by an orthopaedic consultant, nurses, physiotherapist, plaster technician and play therapists.

Northland has a high rate of club foot, with more than 120 children on the DHB's register and 270 children receiving treatment in recent years.

Maria is a student at Hiwa-I-Te-Rangi, a school for young parents in Kaikohe and when the Festival approached the school to see if they wanted to submit a film, Maria took up the opportunity to use it as a platform to inspire other parents on the same journey as Braxton and hers. Ultimately, Maria wants to show that his condition is not a disability because of all the positive treatment he has had from Whāngarei Hospital to correct it.

The film will document their journey from learning she was pregnant, to when she was first told about the condition and she questioned whether she was responsible or not.

Using images of the progress Braxton has made since he was a newborn, Maria will talk about the ups and downs she has faced. She plans to include the scene she filmed at Whangarei Hospital during Braxton’s last checkup and an interview with consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Lyndon Bradley.

Dr Bradley was a natural in front of the camera and gave Maria a full explanation about what exactly club foot is, how it’s caused and how they have managed to realign Braxton’s foot using the Ponseti Method.

He also explained to Maria that although they know the condition is genetic, it sometimes appears out of nowhere.

“Sometimes if the baby is squashed (if they are a twin), or if there’s a problem with fluid it’s there – but other times we don’t know why it happens.”

Dr Bradley assured Maria that once treatment is finished, Braxton’s feet may not be quite the same as other feet and often the calf muscle is smaller, but their aim is to ensure his foot is flat and pain free. He added that someone with club foot could go on to be an All Black.

Initially, Braxton and Maria had to travel from Moerewa to Whāngarei every week for Braxton to have new casts made to gradually change the direction of his foot. He also had a surgical procedure to put a small cut in his Achilles tendon to lengthen it and enable the foot to be moved into a normal position.

Following that Braxton had to wear special boots for 23 hours a day for three months, and will carry on wearing these boots while he sleeps until he is three or four years old. Now though, after months of regular treatment, Braxton is only required to attend the Clinic every six months.

On the morning Maria was filming in the Hospital, she noticed another couple with a newborn child who had also had club foot, and she took the opportunity to have a chat to them before their appointment. She assured them of how successful the treatment is and showed them how well Braxton has responded.

The couple agreed to have footage of the conversation included in the film which shows Maria in her element, proudly explaining how it will all be worthwhile in the end and of how far they have come thanks to the support from Whāngarei Hospital.

After Maria submits the film to the Festival at the end of May, she and the School will find out if she is successful and whether she can attend the red carpet premiere in September.


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