Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The day I met Dr. Ignacio Ponseti
I cried in the shower Monday morning when I learned about Dr. Ponseti's death. He passed away Sunday, Oct. 18th, after complications following a stroke he'd suffered while quietly working in his office (pictured above) at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics last week. He was 95.
I've known Dr. Ponseti since 2004 when a friend invited me to accompany her and her 10-year-old son for a consultation on her son's relapsed clubfoot. I watched quietly as Dr. Ponseti examined Gabriel, assisted by Dr. Stuart Weinstein and Dr. Jose Morcuende. During the consultation and initial treatment, Dr. Ponseti gently massaged the affected foot, talking in his soft Mallorcan-accent to Gabe and then to Gabe's mother. He wasn't just massaging the foot, but feeling the pattern of bones, tendons, ligaments, an inner terrain known intimately by Dr. Ponseti.
I returned several times for in-person interviews with Dr. Ponseti, who shared his time, his stories, and his gentle spirit with enormous generosity. I kept in touch via email, and a year later, Gabriel walked down the halls of the University of Iowa's Ponseti Clubfoot Treatment Center located at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City--fully cured. Gabriel's case made medical history for being the oldest child treated by the Ponseti team for clubfoot correction, a success story.
But curing clubfeet is not the only legacy Dr. Ponseti leaves us. His example of caring for others extends throughout his life, including an amazing evacuation of 40 injured soldiers and loyalists out of the country during the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
The details read like a movie, which I don't doubt posts like mine may encourage: When the commander and ambulance driver abandoned them, Ignacio Ponseti, only in his twenties himself, did not leave these injured; he and another man scavanged up some mules and vehicles to help transport this motley entourage over the Pyrenees Mountains to safety in France.
I plan to write more about Dr. Ponseti, because this modest man deserves to be introduced to people who didn't know him, those who have never heard his name outside the medical community or very far outside of Iowa.
Of course, the impact of his orthopedic work and expertise has attracted the deserved accolades within the worldwide medical community, and without a doubt, his method will continue to make a miraculous difference for children all around the globe.
But the choices he made in each phase of his life inspires--from dangerous risks to save others in Spain, his work in Mexico while he was a refugee, his arrival in Iowa in 1941 and his persistance in working past retirement in 1985 until his death last week--all this illuminates an extraordinary life lived selflessly, with a focus on helping others.
His shining example proves that ONE person (and the quality of one's choices) can, indeed, touch the world. Dr. Ponseti is my hero.