Zach Gorelick was about four months old when doctors treated him for a birth defect called clubfoot. After the treatment, which was “extremely expensive,” the alumnus was able to live a normal life, though he said gym class was always a bit tougher.
In developing countries, children born with clubfoot – a condition that causes feet to grow inward and downward – may never be able to run, play or go to school because of the steep costs and distant medical facilities.
Gorelick, a 2013 graduate of the School of Media and Public Affairs, is planning to bring light to the issue, which is largely unknown in the Western world, by creating a documentary of how it affects people in the U.S., Vietnam, Ghana and New Zealand.
“I want people to know what this issue is because I want people to know and care. But to care you have to know,” he said. “If it’s treated, it can literally change somebody’s life. To treat it is not actually that difficult given our resources in the Western world.”
Gorelick said he will share his own experience with the condition to show how few people in the U.S. are aware of it. He said he raising awareness will also help raise funds for the treatment process in countries where it is more challenging.
He will travel with his film partner, Hannah Silverstein, who graduated from Georgetown University and witnessed the effects of untreated clubfoot while studying abroad in Ghana. Gorelick, who graduated with a degree in journalism, was also the editor-in-chief of an online news site, The GW Patriot.
Silverstein said she was inspired to create a documentary because of how difficult it was for her to find information about clubfoot that was easy to understand, even with a background in public health. After the two graduated in May, they decided it was the best time to actually make the film.
“This is the only time in our life that we don’t have house payments, car payments, bills to pay. It’s the time to go out there and have this adventure,” she said.
One in about every 750 children worldwide are born with clubfoot, and Gorelick said getting treatment in developing countries can require eight to nine hours of travel a few times a week, which is impossible for many families.
Looking to raise about $45,000 to pay for the trip and production, the team has started a online fundraising campaign. So far, they’ve raised about $3,000 with the help of 40 supporters.
Gorelick and Silverstein plan to head abroad in October or November. He said they choose each country for a reason. In Vietnam, there is a large network of medical facilities specifically for treating clubfoot scattered around the country.
And New Zealand, which Gorelick said is often the most surprising to people, boasts state-of-the-art hospitals to treat clubfoot all over the island because Polynesians have a higher risk of being born with clubfoot.
Ghana, a much poorer nation, will offer a stark contrast to the other countries’ treatment. The Ponseti method, the most common type of treatment there, is not just a one-time surgery, but a series of adjustments and casts that require several trips to a doctor.
“For a rural village that’s eight to nine hours away from the clinic, going in one to two times a week is a sustained effort that’s very difficult for a rural environment,” he said.
Gorelick said he hopes to use the documentary to spread awareness of his condition, as he said it never fails to surprise him how few people know what he is talking about when he mentions clubfoot. The two plan to hold viewings of the film, and share it with clubfoot organizations that have reached out to them to get word out.
He hopes that by spreading awareness, it may help ease treatment in places it is more difficult to treat.
“If it’s treated, it can literally change somebody’s life. But to treat it it’s not actually that difficult given our resources in the western world,” he said.
This post was updated on Aug. 2 at 4:36 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the procedure to correct clubfoot cost Gorelick $200. In fact, he said it cost more than that. The Hatchet also incorrectly referred to clubfoot as a disease, instead of a condition. We regret these errors.