Free shoes and foot exams provide comfort, health to city’s most vulnerable

Free shoes and foot exams provide comfort, health to city’s most vulnerable

Paul Kupcha, M.D., Hearts to Soles
Paul Kupcha, M.D., provides a free foot exam during the Hearts to Soles event on Nov. 26. About 80 people, many homeless and diabetic, received free shoes, socks and medical attention.

As a Type 2 diabetic, Donnell Morrisson knew that he needed to pay extra attention to his feet. Diabetes can damage nerves, making it less likely for a person with the disease to feel an injury on the skin of the foot until an infection develops.

For a long time, Morrisson’s feet remained vulnerable to injury because he wasn’t wearing shoes that fit.

“I know it’s important for me to take care of my feet because I’m a diabetic, but I don’t have the means to buy good shoes right now,” said Morrisson, 49.

For Morrison and others in desperate need of comfortable, protective shoes, the holiday season arrived a month early.

Christiana Care Health System’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery provided new shoes, socks and foot exams for free to about 80 people — many of them homeless — on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Sunday Breakfast Mission, a homeless shelter in Wilmington. The event is part of a campaign by a national organization known as Our Hearts to Your Soles, whose mission is to provide the less fortunate with shoes and free foot examinations. Guess? Inc. provided 60 pairs of new shoes through the organization, and Independence Orthotics provided 50 pairs of specialty shoes for people with advanced diabetic foot needs.

“This whole event is a blessing for me,” said Morrisson, who found size 10 shoes that fit well. “I’ll be able to walk without pain, and I’ll be able to get more cardio exercise in, now that I have better shoes.”

Paul Kupcha, M.D., section chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery at Christiana Care, is the local coordinator for the event. Dr. Kupcha said that foot health can provide a clue to a person’s overall health. Joint stiffness, for example, can indicate arthritis; tingling and numbness can be connected to diabetes; swelling can indicate high blood pressure or diseases of the heart and kidneys.

“We are able to do physical exams to see whether they are suffering from chronic problems, and we are able to follow up with them,” said Dr. Kupcha, who has been volunteering with Our Hearts to Your Soles for five years. “A lot of the people that we saw were wearing worn-out shoes, so by getting them the shoes that fit right, we also are protecting them from frostbite.”

Dr. Kupcha also examined Pauline Barry, 71, of Wilmington, who came to the event because she experiences pain in her feet due to arthritis.

“It’s really nice to be wearing comfortable shoes again,” Barry said. “This is a great event, and it helps out our community.”

Hypertension, respiratory illness and foot problems are the three most common health issues that the homeless face, said Rev. Tom Laymon, executive director of the Sunday Breakfast Mission.

“The fact that the homeless walk everywhere they go means that their feet are taking a greater beating than the rest of us,” Laymon said. “So the ability for them to get shoes that fit and see a doctor means that you’re helping them out. Like putting new tires on a car, you’re retreading them in a lot of ways by giving them shoes and foot care.”