Raising the bar on talipes
When international high-jumper Jonathan Broom-Edwards was diagnosed with talipes equinovarus at birth, his mum worried it would hold him back. As he took gold at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, he showed just what can be achieved with talipes.
“It was quite a tearful moment for my mum when they realised I had talipes and clubfoot,” Jonathan tells This Is MedTech. “But I grew up not really thinking or worrying about it.”
Talipes equinovarus is a disorder of the foot and ankle commonly referred to as ‘clubfoot’ due to the appearance of one or both feet, which develop facing inwards and pointing downwards. While the condition has the potential to cause severe disability, nearly all children with clubfoot can be successfully treated with the proper intervention, allowing them to take part in regular daily activities, learn to walk around the usual age and enjoy physical activities.
“I had my clubfoot corrected when I was a baby to straighten out my foot,” Jonathan explains. This included strapping to gradually correct the shape of his feet over a series of months, use of a solid bar brace comprising a bar and boots to maintain the corrected position, and a posterior tibial tendon transfer and soft tissue therapy to correct the downward positioning of the left foot. Enabled by medical technology, Jonathan also underwent an operation to fuse three joints in his foot. “After that, in the early stages of my life, I wore orthotics to help my feet function as best they could,” Jonathan explains.
While Jonathan experienced effects of the talipes as he developed, and has impairments in his feet and left leg and ankle, he has never considered it a disability, and sport has always been a big part of his life.
“Basketball was my thing when I was growing up,” Jonathan reveals. So much so that he competed in able-bodied competitions at county level before he ever considered para-athletic competitions.
It was only while trying out the high jump to help with his basketball leaps that Jonathan was asked about his leg and introduced to the head coach for the British Athletics Paralympic Programme. This was the start of his international para-athletic career.
In the eight years since his international classification, Jonathan has set a world record and won eight medals: one bronze, five silvers (including one at the Rio Paralympics) and two golds. Both gold medals were achieved following Jonathan’s recovery from surgery to treat a ruptured Achilles tendon.
While the bar-and-boots brace remains a crucial part of talipes treatment, innovative developments are being explored for the future, such as the incorporation of sensor technology to record brace usage and wirelessly transmit the data to healthcare providers to help improve compliance.
For Jonathan, medical technology has helped him to do what he loves. “Sport is invaluable for anyone and everyone: the endorphins when you are doing sport, the teamwork, the competitiveness,” he reflects. “For me, personally, it is something I have never been without.”