People with the greatest need for proper foot care are often those with the least access to it. That’s why, for the fifth year, Christiana Care partnered with the Sunday Breakfast Mission and Our Hearts to Your Soles, a national nonprofit organization created to provide the less fortunate across the United States with shoes and free foot examinations.
More than 80 men, women and children — many of whom are homeless — received free foot exams provided by local event coordinator Paul Kupcha, M.D., section chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery at Christiana Care and an orthopaedic surgeon at Delaware Orthopaedic Specialists, and by Robert A. Steele, M.D., of First State Orthopaedics.
In addition, many of the attendees received new shoes donated by Soles4Souls and Red Wing Shoes. Independence Prosthetics-Orthotics Inc. provided specialty shoes for people with advanced diabetic foot needs, and the nonprofit Dignity U Wear provided socks to each attendee.
“The homeless are on their feet almost constantly,” said Rev. Tom Laymon, executive director of the Sunday Breakfast Mission. “They generally don’t have good shoes, and shoes donated to them are often the wrong kind. They don’t have rubber soles and wear out quickly. Some very simple things can lead to very complex problems.”
Among those problems, said Dr. Kupcha, are skin blisters, ulcers, fungus infections, calluses, corns and ingrown and overgrown toenails.
“Something as seemingly routine as poor toenail care can lead to terrible infections and amputations,” Dr. Kupcha said. “The living conditions of the homeless can also lead to diabetes, which can have a profound impact on their foot health. And many also battle with alcoholism, which can impair sensation and blood supply to their feet as well.”
It was an ingrown toenail that brought John Lundberg back to the Sunday Breakfast Mission that evening. A graduate of the mission who’d previously been living on the streets of Wilmington, Lundberg had recently found employment with a cleaning service company, a job that has him on his feet nearly constantly throughout each day’s shift.
“I noticed that my toe was sensitive while trimming my nails,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s all I need now is a foot problem.’ So when I heard the mission was hosting this again, I made it a point to come see the doctor.”
Now in his eighth year volunteering for Our Hearts to Your Soles, Dr. Kupcha set Lundberg’s mind at ease by telling him he was doing just what he should for the ingrown nail. In what Lundberg called “a bonus,” he also left with a new pair of boots he said will further help him on his new job, to say nothing of managing the coming winter.
“I only had one other pair of shoes,” he said.
Even with the medical insurance coverage he now receives from Medicaid, Lundberg admitted that without the Our Hearts to Your Soles event, he most likely would not have addressed his concerns regarding his feet, giving priority instead to other medical issues he faces as well as challenges associated with living on his own again.
Donald Bentley, a seven-month resident of the Sunday Breakfast Mission, had been following doctors’ advice to stay up on the health of his feet, even seeing a podiatrist in New Jersey, before he fell on hard times. For him, the free examination during Christiana Care’s visit this year was “a blessing.”
“I can’t say enough about the folks from Christiana Care,” he added. “They were great – always a smile on their faces.”
Bentley also thanked the organizers of the event for his new pair of sneakers.
For Sunday Breakfast Mission resident Belinda Hammond, the Our Hearts to Your Soles event was an opportunity to be properly sized for shoes. Hammond, who is on her feet from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., needed a change of shoes when the arch in her foot dropped, making days spent cooking at the mission, walking its hallways to do her classwork, and caring for her children even more challenging.
Having the event at the mission — where, as Laymon said, the homeless are already coming — made it even more comfortable to get the help Hammond needed.
“For people who don’t have some of these things, a night like this gives them a little comfort and tells them that somebody actually does care,” she said.