UH News

Healers help the homeless, with shoes, socks and medical attention

Friday, November 21, 2014

Being homeless is difficult in so many ways that people in fortunate circumstances might never think of.

But John Feighan, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon, knows from his work with the “Our Hearts to Your Soles” organization, which provides socks and footwear to homeless people, just what kind of help is needed. Dr. Feighan is Medical Director of Foot and Ankle Surgery at University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center.

Each year, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he and a group of UH Orthopaedic chief residents head to a shelter on Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland, to examine the feet and ankles of those who spend the better part of each day outside, on the cold streets.

Often, these men suffer from the pain or discomfort that comes from wearing shoes that don’t fit, from getting soaked by rain or snow, or from conditions such as ingrown nails or infections. The doctors may find inflammation and pain and sometimes, a serious medical condition, such as diabetes.

Dr. Feighan and the residents can treat some things – such as painful ingrown toenails – immediately; in other cases, they can refer the shelter residents for further treatment. The group also includes an orthotist, who measure the men’s feet.

Angelo Anderson is a coordinator at the Lakeside shelter, and he says the men look forward to the visit by Dr. Feighan and his colleagues with anticipation. “They measure their feet, give them a clean pair of socks, and a brand new pair of shoes that really fit them,” says Anderson. “A couple of times we’ve had to do a follow up, and get someone more medical attention, based on something the doctors found.

“I think it’s a really special thing that these doctors do.”

The donated shoes come from “Our Hearts to Your Soles,” which partners with the Red Wing Shoe Company of Minnesota to give out free brand new shoes.

“We check feet for wounds, tell them about wound care – and sometimes it’s just simple things, nail problems, ingrown nails, infections,” says Dr. Feighan, who has participated in this effort for seven years. “Diabetes ulcers are more serious, and we can only do so much in the setting of the shelter, so they might be seen afterward at medical facilities.”

And for all of the shelter residents, just some fresh socks and a well-fitting pair of shoes will make a huge difference.

“We want to make sure they have the right shoes, shoes that won’t cause issues,” Dr. Feighan says.

The “Our Hearts to Your Soles” organization partners with both Soles4Souls and the Red Wing Shoe Company in order to provide several thousand pairs of shoes to those in need each holiday season.

Since 2007, “Our Hearts to Your Soles” has been organizing volunteers across the United States in order to assist the less fortunate by giving them footwear, food and free foot examinations; more than 24,000 people in the low-income and homeless communities have been helped through their work.“Our Hearts to Your Soles” works with local homeless shelters as well as orthopedic surgeons and their medical teams in over 40 cities across the U.S. to distribute footwear and carry out examinations.

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