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Saving a Diabetic Foot: January 14, 2013

Diabetic Pat Schulkins knew the importance of taking care of her feet. But a tiny ulcer almost slipped by her.

“I didn’t notice it was there until I was putting cream on my foot. I felt something and looked at it in the mirror,” says Pat Schulkins.

People with diabetes are prone to foot problems. The disease reduces blood flow to the extremities making it hard to heal injuries. It also causes nerve damage, so patients may not feel their feet.

“When you have diabetes and it goes uncontrolled and you developed neuropathy, the structure of your foot can slowly degrade and collapse,” says Dr. Andrew Belis, podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

That’s what happened to Pat. She had developed Charcot, or rocker foot. The bones in her foot collapsed putting constant pressure on her instep.

“So that when you’re walking the mid-foot is actually striking the ground with more pressure than the front or the back and that can cause a sore spot to develop,” says Dr. Belis.

The result was an ulcer that wouldn’t heal.

“We basically reconstructed her foot making it more of a natural shaped foot so there’s not these high pressure spots where the ulcer or the bone would break through the skin and develop another ulcer again,” says Dr. Belis.

Schulkins story had a happy ending but not everyone is as fortunate. Each year more than half the amputations in this country result from diabetes.

“Our goal is to avoid amputations, because people with amputations end up having a very poor 5-10 year of rate of living unfortunately,” says Dr. Belis.

Fixing the bone issue, through a reconstructive procedure, put Schulkins back on solid ground.

“They re-built my whole foot, otherwise I don’t think I’d have a foot today,” says Schulkins.