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Made in Eastern Iowa: MD Orthopaedics

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WAYLAND- On average, one out of every one thousand infants will battle clubfoot. For children born with the congenital birth defect, The Ponseti Treatment is the gold standard. Dr. Ignacio Ponseti developed the method at the University of Iowa. It uses a gentle casting manipulation to gradually correct the turning-in of the feet.

For this week’s made in Eastern Iowa, we’re taking you to a local company that is helping further Dr. Ponseti’s mission to help these children walk normally all around the world.

In 2003, John Mitchell started MD Orthopaedics in his garage. “Dr. Ponseti came to see me when he was 80 years old. That was the first time I met him,” said Mitchell. Mitchell had been making anatomy models, something that caught the attention of Dr. Ponseti at the University of Iowa.

“The muscles are tight so it pulls it up like this,” he said, demonstrating the club foot model he made for Dr. Ponseti. Dr. Ponseti used the model to demonstrate club foot treatment to other doctors and patients.

“He said ‘John, you gotta make some more of these models. People finally understand what I’ve been talking about for 50 years.’” That’s when Dr. Ponseti told him current bracing systems for club foot hadn’t changed in decades. Mitchell was at an appointment where a little girl had blisters on her feet from wearing the uncomfortable bracing system. “He kept pestering me. Are you going to do this or not,” said Mitchell. “He goes ‘This needs to be done.’ “

The idea went from just a thought, to prototype. “I got some leather from the Amish. Tried cutting out leather and sewing it, and just trying to make a shoe,” said Mitchell. He used his ability to mold to create a softer liner for the shoe, eliminating the painful blisters that had come from prior versions.

Mitchell made more than 25 prototypes before Dr. Ponseti green-lighted his product in 2004. The shoe bracing system he designed “keeps the muscle stretched, and that’s how they get better.” These shoe braces are designed for after the casting process is complete. Many children will end up wearing the AFO, or Ankle-Foot Orthosis shoes, through age three or four. Each patient will need several different versions and sizes of the bracing system.

The company has now grown to 25 employees, and the products have helped more than 75 thousand kids in 115 countries around the world.

The outreach doesn’t stop there.

“We always gave 50 percent. And now we’re able to give away hundreds of thousands,” said Mitchell. They started a foundation—“On His Path”-- with 50 percent of the company profits. It helps fund 5 club foot clinics in El Salvador. The clinics are on track to treat up to 450 children with Club Foot by the end of the year.

“I’m glad that from Iowa we can affect the world. It’s cool,” Mitchell said.

For more information on MD Orthopaedics, check out the company’s website here.

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