Dancing at Wedding 6 Weeks After Surgery
As part of dealing with the deformities and pain caused by Charcot Marie Tooth disease, a condition that affects the nerves that control muscles, Peggy Schubert named her right foot Precious and her left foot Precarious.
“I found that by naming them I could love them more and not be so angry and frustrated with them,” Schubert explained.
Charcot Marie Tooth, named after the three doctors who discovered it, is a hereditary disease that affects the forearms, hands, lower legs and feet. The effects of this disease were apparent in Schubert as a child; she remembers always being clumsy, uncoordinated and the last kid picked for sports.
By her 40s, physical motion had become so taxing and her balance so “precarious” that she used foot-ankle orthotics, special boots and occasionally a cane.
Following a bad fall on Feb. 14, 2000, she was referred to Dr. Richard Coughlin, an orthopedic surgeon at UCSF Medical Center who specializes in foot and ankle problems. Coughlin impressed Schubert by recognizing the severity of her problem and the need for surgery, as well as his initial prescription for physical therapy – lots of physical therapy.
“I don’t know how functional your feet can be,” Schubert recalled Coughlin saying. “But the more you can do on your own and in PT, the less we’ll have to do in surgery.”
Intensive effort on her own and with therapists helped gain some movement but didn’t reverse the condition.
“My right foot looked like I was wearing a five-inch heel, and in spite of all the stretching and exercising, we couldn’t get that heel down and stabilize my gait,” Schubert explained.
In September, Coughlin surgically released the fascia, the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, and nicked the Achilles tendon in a few places to give the release and stretch needed to lower the heel. He also realigned some heel and leg bones to provide better stability, and did several other procedures to aid in lifting up the front of the foot for a more normal heel-toe gait.
Schubert took her first unaided steps in decades at the end of December 2000. She danced briefly at a friend’s wedding in mid-April, just six weeks after a second surgery on Precarious, her less-deformed foot. In a third surgery in October 2001, Coughlin released several toe tendons to provide greater stability, removed the holding screw in Schubert’s left foot, and replaced the screw in the right foot where the bone fusion wasn’t yet complete.
“You can’t underestimate the importance of pain-free, stable ambulation,” Coughlin noted. “Peggy exemplifies that the road to achieve this often takes time and effort, but the rewards are great.”
To honor the many people who helped her during the extensive process of surgeries and rehabilitation that spanned two years, Schubert has created a very special painting. The painting thanks family, friends and neighbors, as well as the wonderful nurses and staff at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. “And most importantly,” Peggy explained, “the painting honors Dr. Coughlin, whose knowledge, surgical skill and foresight have given me the miracle of functional feet and mobility.”