Patient Stories | Finland and Clubfoot

Casting Corrections, Ongoing Therapy and Parental Support Help Finland Realize His Sports Potential

Many families have boxes in their homes. Boxes of different sizes, each filled with different things: old holiday decorations, knickknacks, whatnots. Boxes often located in attics or basements. Boxes often left neglected or forgotten. 

The Iles family owns their fair share of boxes, as well. But for parents, Michael and Shane, one box is more important than all the others because it contains part of their family’s history. 

The contents? Lots and lots of used casts. Foot casts, specifically, dating back 10 years. Each one documenting the growth and gradual improvement over the years of their son, Finland. 

“We’ve saved them in a box downstairs since he was seven days old,” said his mom, Michael. “We have all kinds of casts.” 

Finland, who was born with a significant congenital clubfoot abnormality of both feet, has been a patient at Cincinnati Children's since birth. He’s had the same primary doctor his entire life, orthopaedic surgery specialist Charles Mehlman, DO, MPH.

Family Commitment Proves Crucial to Finland’s Success

Fortunately, Finland never needed foot surgery. Instead, Dr. Mehlman and the orthopaedic team followed the Ponseti method, a non-surgical approach to correct clubfoot. The Ponseti method involves a specific series of cast corrections and braces to gradually improve foot function. 

According to Dr. Mehlman, successful treatment for clubfoot depends on several key factors, including a family’s dedicated commitment to treatment and returning to the hospital for continual re-casting. He notes, “Finland has benefited greatly from an awesome mom and dad.” 

Finding and settling into their casting routine was easy, according to Michael and Shane. The required “work” wasn’t really work since it involved providing the best care for their son. 

“Every week I would take him back to get those [casts] redone. I would take them off myself at the end of the week, and then we would go back in for a new casting the next day. We did that for probably six months,” said Michael.  

For another year, Finland wore boots and bars 23 hours a day. Then, from 18 months to 4 years old, he wore the boots and bars only at night, while sleeping. 

Slowly, Finland’s feet improved and the shoes finally came off around his fourth birthday. His parents were happy. Finland was not. 

“He would ask for his ‘night-night’ shoes, and he’d get angry if I didn’t put them on him,” said Michael. “He didn’t realize that this was the new normal. That he didn’t have to wear them anymore.”

Finland Discovers New Sports, Makes Great Strides

With the braces gone, Finland switched to sneakers and started playing basketball when he was 4. A few years later he transitioned to youth football. He excelled during his most recent season, playing five different positions between offense (running back, wide receiver and back-up quarterback) and defense (linebacker and cornerback). He regularly scored touchdowns each week.  

Last year, Finland joined a local wrestling club near his hometown in Grant County, Kentucky, located about 40 miles south of Cincinnati. He quickly found success and was named a 2023 state champion for his age group. 

“That’s where he really strives—in wrestling,” said Michael. 

Finland now calls it his favorite sport. For many reasons. 

“I really like the contact, honestly,” said Finland. “Also the moves and the learning part of it. And all the coaches and being, like, technical. It’s fun.” 

It also requires a lot of work. Being born with clubfoot, Finland is no stranger to hard work. His early goals focused on walking and improving each day, which involved hard work. Over the years, his goals have evolved and today are more sports-driven.

“When Finland does something cool sports-wise, the first person he wants to tell is dad,” said Michael. “And the next person is Dr. Mehlman.” 

She appreciates the special bond and level of trust the two have developed over the years as longtime doctor-and-patient.

“Dr. Mehlman doesn’t hold him back. He says, if [Finland] feels like he can do it, do it. So that’s what we do,” said Michael. 

“My overall treatment philosophy for the children I treat with musculoskeletal problems is that when you’re a kid it’s your job to have fun,” said Dr. Mehlman. 

“Finland is a fun, bright, kinetic sort of kid who has a great sense of humor and a strong dedication to being successful at his school and athletic endeavors. It’s always a fun visit when he comes in for an appointment.” 

As part of his ongoing treatment, Finland returns to Cincinnati Children’s to see Dr. Mehlman once a year for new cast corrections, which he wears for around three weeks at a time. 

And each year brings new personal goals for Finland to set and achieve. 

“I always reminded myself that I had a goal that I wanted to reach. And I would not stop working for it until I got it,” he said. “Now, when I’m playing football or wrestling, my goal is to be the best of the best.” 

Finland has advice for other patients battling long-term conditions, such as clubfoot. 

“Don’t get discouraged. Keep your head up. Keep moving forward and never look down on yourself,” said Finland. “And always look at everything as an opportunity.”

(Published April 2023)