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Rheumatoid Arthritis- Fixing the Feet: May 20, 2014

To see Audrey Walston move today, you’d never guess how far she’s come.

“It was painful to walk, to move, to put a shoe on. It got that I couldn’t wear shoes because the foot had got quite deformed,” says Walston.

Audrey has rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disease, it attacks the joints throughout the body.

“And by doing that, it creates a lot of swelling, inflammation, pain. And that creates deformity if it left unchecked,” explains Dr. Andrew Belis. He is a foot and ankle surgeon on medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

That’s exactly what happened to Audrey- her hands and feet were especially hard hit.

“It can affect the feet where the toes and the joints of the feet collapse or dislocate or angulate, usually in an outward appearance,” says Dr. Belis.

Her X-rays reveal Audrey’s feel were so damaged she could barely function. The pain was unbearable.

“I was ready to chop a leg off if that would’ve taken some of the pain away or improved my quality of life,” says Walston.

That’s when she made her way to Dr. Belis.

“She was in bad shape. She came in with a kind of ‘walking on the ankles’ and really severe inverted, flat-foot type problem.”

By the time rheumatoid arthritis patients seek out surgery, they’ve usually been on medications for many years. Being a progressive disease, the joints are damaged over time. Doctors may use several surgical techniques from tendon lengthening to joint fusion to rebuild the foot from the ground up.

“We did some minimally invasive things up near her toes because the joints were not too, too far gone. In the end we did multiple fusions and we used internal hardware to hold it in place. And she did very well,” says Dr. Belis.

Her feet look much better, but it’s nothing compared to how she feels.

“I figured I won the lotto, getting around the way I do,” Walston exclaims.