November 24, 2008

UAMS Department of Orthopaedics Reaches out to Homeless

  Orthopaedic surgeon Ruth Thomas, M.D., provides a foot exam.
 Orthopaedic surgeon Ruth Thomas, M.D., provides a foot exam.
A group of volunteers from UAMS and other organizations provided foot screenings and free shoes for homeless men at River City Ministry
A group of volunteers from UAMS and other organizations provided foot screenings and free shoes for homeless men at River City Ministry.

Nov. 24, 2008 | A simple act of kindness can have a lasting impact. That’s the idea behind Our Hearts to Your Soles, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing shoes and preventive foot screenings to those in need.


Founded in 2004 by Matthew and Laura Conti, two teenage siblings in Pittsburgh, the organization has already reached more than 3,000 homeless men and is in the process of expanding nationwide. That’s where the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) comes in.


A veteran of medical mission work around the world, UAMS orthopaedic surgeon Ruth Thomas, M.D., readily accepted the offer to conduct an event for the organization in Arkansas. “I was asked by Dr. Stephen Conti if I would be their Arkansas representative as they try to get foot screening events organized in every state,” said Thomas, professor of orthopaedics in the UAMS College of Medicine. Conti is father to the teenage founders and an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon in Pittsburgh.


Thomas and her assistant Sherry Holt worked with the staff of River City Ministry in North Little Rock to organize a foot care clinic and shoe fitting Nov. 20. One hundred pairs of durable shoes were donated by the Red Wing Shoe Company, and socks were provided by Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory.


“Our goal was to give each man a pair of socks and a pair of well-fitted shoes, but our biggest contributions as health care providers were the foot examinations and the nail and callus care,” she said.


While the main foot-related concerns for homeless people are calluses and fungal infections of the skin and toenails, Thomas and her colleagues were particularly aware of screening for diabetes-related foot problems.


“We really wanted to help any people at risk for possibly losing a leg due to diabetes-related complications and get them into protective footwear,” Thomas said. She said the need for continued medical care also was addressed with those who required it.


Thomas was joined at the event by fellow UAMS Department of Orthopaedics physicians Gulraiz Cheema, M.D.; Laura Gehrig, M.D.; and Karen Seale, M.D., along with nurses and other staff members. She anticipates the shoe fitting and screening to become an annual event in Arkansas.


Our Hearts to Your Soles works in partnership with Soles4Souls, an international charity that collects and distributes new and gently worn shoes to needy people around the world. Soles4Souls has given away more than 3.4 million pairs of shoes internationally, including more than 1 million to victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


In addition to those named above, the following people also participated in the event: Mike Finley, David King and Debbie Bryant of UAMS; Gayelynn Quigley of Arthrex; Sandra Burton; Scott Dedman of Hangers Cleaners; Sonia Cheema; Beth Williams and Vince Mann of Snell; and Debra Evatt.