Stuart Gamgee is not your everyday shoe-maker but he always puts his best foot forward. Tony Bailey is a diabetic who needs custom-made shoes that ensure he has a firm footing wherever he goes.
Known as a pedorthist, Stuart is a one-of-a-kind in Canberra and can be found making shoes, splints and braces from scratch at the prosthetics and orthotics workshop at the Village Creek campus of Canberra Health Services at Kambah.
Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing chronic conditions in Australia and diabetics can suffer serious damage to their limbs – often requiring amputation – because of their body’s inability to process sugars in their blood.
Despite working as a registered critical care nurse for 47 years, Tony says he wasn’t the ideal patient after his diabetes diagnosis in 2004.
He developed a diabetic foot condition called Charcot, caused by the breakdown of joints in the foot. He has since had five toes partially amputated, including both his big toes.
He has been wearing orthotic shoes for seven years, but only since his association with Stuart have his boots really been made for walking.
“I’ve had an open wound on the underside of my foot that has really only healed properly once I began wearing these orthotics,” says Tony.
“During COVID, I didn’t put them on for a few days and my foot got worse because the boots correct the way I stand and walk.
“I put them on as soon as I get up each morning until I go to bed at night. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to walk or stand properly.”
Stuart says something as small as a blister from a poor fitting shoe can lead to an amputation if the foot becomes infected.
“If you can keep your feet, that will impact your health, so these shoes are an essential piece of equipment,” Stuart says.
“The process of getting a cast of someone’s foot to making a shoe takes about two weeks. It’s not cheap and we often have to do modifications over time.”
Stuart has been making specialist shoes for more than seven years. He is one of a handful of pedorthists in Australia and says demand for specialist shoes is increasing significantly.
He came to Canberra after completing his training at Southern Cross University on the Gold Coast.
Stuart and Tony both say you can’t take a backward step when it comes to good foot health and the issues are not just related to diabetes. Other ailments include traumatic injury, congenital disorders and genetic issues where your feet don’t do what they’re supposed to.
“I’m still able to drive and like to get out in the garden or just have the freedom to move around, so foot health for me is extremely important. But if you’ve got diabetes, it’s even more important to make sure your feet are in the best condition they can be. Having orthotics keeps me from getting to a point where I can no longer use my feet,” Tony says.
For Stuart, his work involves discussing design preferences with the patient and drafting patterns before creating the mould and making the shoe.
“I think it’s really important to get the message out that you must care for your feet, particularly if you can’t feel your feet because as soon as you get damage that’s when things are getting serious,” he said.
“We just try to look at how the foot should be functioning and try to maximise that as much as possible. People wearing orthotics should have comfort and be able to stand and walk for longer periods and have more confidence that they’re not going to fall over.”
World No Diabetes Day is also on 14 November, marking the birthday of Frederick Banting who co-discovered insulin in 1922.
For more information, visit ACT Health.