Ignacio V. Ponseti; treated clubfoot in infants
IOWA CITY - A University of Iowa doctor who perfected a nonsurgical treatment for curing clubfoot in infants, and practiced it more than 60 years, has died.
Dr. Ignacio V. Ponseti died Sunday in Iowa City following complications from a stroke. Dr. Ponseti was 95.
He developed his method in the mid-1940s and in the following decades saw or advised on the treatment of 60,000 patients.
“I think his legacy will endure forever through his students and the grateful patients and families who’ve benefited from this methodology,’’ said Dr. Stuart Weinstein, an orthopedic surgeon who trained and worked with Dr. Ponseti.
Clubfoot is a congenital defect in which a baby’s foot is turned downward or sideways. Before Dr. Ponseti’s method took hold, standard treatment was surgery, with varying rates of success.
Dr. Ponseti’s nonsurgical method stretched the ligaments, joints, and tendons in the foot, followed by application of a plaster cast. The bones, all cartilage in an infant, are aligned, and the leg is put in a splint.
Weinstein said doctors nationally paid little attention to Dr. Ponseti’s technique for many years, instead favoring surgery. That finally began to change in the late 1990s, when parents used the Internet to trade information about his treatments.
“I think all of us, especially Dr. Ponseti, felt extremely frustrated that doctors really couldn’t see the light,’’ Weinstein said. “Frustrated to have to fight this uphill battle when we felt the answer was obvious.’’
Dr. Theresa Woods of Lafayette, Ind., knew Dr. Ponseti as a patient and a colleague. Dr. Ponseti treated Woods, and almost 30 years later, she returned as a medical resident at the University of Iowa. “Sometimes surgeons are a little rougher and gruffer,’’ Woods said. “He was just a gentle, caring man.’’
Martin Egbert and his wife discovered Dr. Ponseti’s method through the Internet. Their son, Joshua, was born in 1999 with club foot, and 16 orthopedic surgeons tried to warn the family away from Dr. Ponseti.
“Most of them had recommended against using his method or going to Iowa,’’ said Egbert, of Henderson, Nev. “To some degree, I look at it like polio. Everyone knows the name Jonas Salk. What [Ponseti] did for people, children, that’s comparable.’’
The practice is endorsed by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control.