A Confident Spirit
It was a freeing moment when Sasha Mackey was able to walk into any room with her head held high and not worry about what others thought about her. This air of confidence is something abnormal for the 18-year-old who spent most her life self-conscious and always second guessing herself.
Since she was two years old Mackey was diagnosed with Blount’s Disease, which to most just looks like severe bow-leggedness. To others her bowed left leg may have appeared to be just another cosmetic problem, but to Mackey it was something that meant the world.
The second year Education major at The College of The Bahamas says the decision of her mother, Anetta Culmer-Mackey to seek treatment for her early has helped her to get to the point where she finally feels really good about herself and even ventures to wear short or form fitting clothes.
“I have my confidence back and it feels good,” says Mackey. “I really didn’t always like to go out because of my leg and I was teased and tormented in school by other kids because of it. It even stopped me from being able to play with the other kids like I wanted to, because my teachers felt I shouldn’t put pressure on my leg. In those days I was basically being told I couldn’t do things when I always thought I could.”
The adventurous young lady says while her illness is not life threatening, it did result in her having to undergo multiple surgeries to correct the growth pattern in her leg. Besides the post-surgical pain and scarring, Mackey is glad she didn’t have to recover from any long-term physical harm from her disease.
Her biggest challenge now, besides her occasional back pain due to her awkward gait, is to learn to be more confident and outgoing. She’s already overcome preoccupations about people wondering aloud or silently about her physical deformity.
Blount’s Disease is more than just simple bow-leggedness and is more serious than most people would believe, according to Dr. Robert Gibson, an orthopedic surgeon operating form the Med Dent Co surgery center on Rose Lane and Bradley Street.
“Blount’s Disease is a developmental disorder that affects the upper end of the tibia, the larger bone in the lower leg. It affects it in such a way that the front and inner aspect of the bone has delayed growth while the posterior grows normally. The result is that the bone will turn in and the leg becomes increasingly bowed,” says the physician.
There are two times in one’s development that this disease can appear, the infantile stage, between the ages of two and five, and in adolescence which occurs anytime after 10 years of age. Unlike bowleggedness which most children can suffer from early in their development but the legs straighten out after the age of two, children suffering from infantile Blount’s Disease get progressively worse after this age.
“To diagnose this illness the bone has to be examined with an x-ray. It can appear in one or both of the legs.
Treatment of the illness can vary due to how early one is diagnosed. In the early stages you can put a brace on the child’s lower leg to control the growth.
If it isn’t working as well as it should multiple surgical procedures may be needed to correct the problem,” says the medical professional.
If the illness is treated early enough with surgery that arrests the growth in the outside of the leg, hopefully by the time the child finishes growing the inner portion of the bone can grow enough to catch up.
If it is too late it will not work well and other surgeries will be needed to straighten and lengthen the leg.
Dr. Gibson says despite what many would believe, the illness is fairly common in the country. Internationally it affects whites and blacks equally.
It’s a universal disease that most people don’t think about very much. The physician believes that about 75 percent of the population that suffer from the disease are helped successfully whether they choose to do their surgeries locally or seek help abroad.
“On the other hand we do have lots of people walking about with untreated Blount’s. They are often young people and they tend to have long thighs but short lower legs which gives them the appearance of almost walking on their knees. Not treating their disease makes them susceptible to getting arthritis due to their displaced body weight,” he says.
While the illness can be very serious and even painful, for some it is something that happens naturally in most cases. But even so there are lots of myths out there that people believe can cause it, like pushing children, walking too early or even wrapping the baby’s legs around a parent’s body often while it is young. All theories have been tested and found to be false, says the doctor. The studies done that debunk these theories show that there is no higher prevalence for children who experience these things than those who don’t.
It is also incorrect to believe that one’s height or weight affects the disease. It is just more pronounced in heavier people but it is just as likely to happen to a slender person. There is still no way to say exactly how or why this disease occurs but it is something that can be successfully treated nonetheless.
“I advise that this disease be treated if not for medical reasons but for the psychological wellbeing of the child,” says Dr. Gibson. “I have found that many of the children I have treated have a significant difference in their personalities after they have treated the illness successfully.
“Males aren’t as bad psychologically to me but I two years ago I met a young lady from Eleuthera, age 15, who refused to go to school anymore with her leg crooked. Her parents brought her up to be treated and she was so different afterwards.
“Similarly, there was a young man who was overweight that I treated. A year later I met him again and he was significantly smaller and walked with an air of confidence he had been missing the time before,” says Dr. Gibson.
“Treating this illness is more about peace of mind for these kids and it really does wonders for them as they develop and their self esteem grows.”