Dr. Vinayak Sathe peered closely at the swollen foot.
“Can you move your ankle up and down? Good. And can you move it sideways? So just swelling right? And how far up does it go, like up to here?”
Sateh, a foot and ankle surgeon, was working as part of a team providing free, pre-Thanksgiving foot care in New Britain. For a fifth year, staff from the New England Musculoskeletal Institute at the University of Connecticut provided the podiatry screenings — and new shoes — to homeless people in central Connecticut.
That foot belonged to Electa Mackinnon. Mackinnon lives at the Friendship Center — a homeless outreach program and shelter where Sathe and other health professionals arrived Tuesday night with an arsenal of new shoes and boots. Sateh gave her a quick foot checkup before she was fitted for a pair of those shoes.
“Since I’m a diabetic and I have not seen a podiatrist since I became a diabetic, he wanted to check my feet and make sure I didn’t have no sores or cuts or ulcers starting on my feet,” she said.
Sathe pronounced her feet fine, apart from the swelling. He found no ulcers or cuts, which could be lethal in her case, he said, and asked her to wash them every day, keep them moisturized to avoid infection and trim her toenails regularly.
“She’s got diabetes, so she’s more risk prone for any kind of infections or ulcers,” he said. “Secondly she’s got high blood pressure so that ends up giving a lot of swelling in the foot. The combination can be sometimes risky, so she must be careful.”
Taking good care of your feet and ankles is as medically important as looking after your heart, your head and any other body part, he said.
Sathe’s colleague Dr. Michael Aronow led the team of foot specialists, who also stopped to offer foot screenings and shoes at New Britain’s Salvation Army Center Tuesday evening.
“This kind of thing is important because people without medical insurance don’t always get screenings,” Aronow said. “And sometimes minor problems such as corns, callouses, ingrown toenails can become major infections and major problems if they’re not taken care of. So here we can take a look and either help them on the spot or direct them back to the clinic to have it taken care of at a later date.”
Properly fitting shoes are also important, he said. Some people are wearing shoes much too small or large, which can also cause problems.
Mackinnon was fitted for a pair of size 8, beige colored slip-on shoes.
“I wanted sneakers, but they said these are better because of the swelling in my feet,” she said. “They asked if I still wanted them and I said yeah, I’ll take ’em. The price is right.”
The New Britain foot clinics were part of a nationwide campaign — Our Hearts to Your Soles — that started in 2007 in Pennsylvania. Now, 33 states are involved, providing free foot screenings to those in need. The shoes are new or gently used and donated by two Tennessee nonprofits — Soles4Souls and Socks2Soles. Some come from the Red Wing Shoes and Keen footwear companies. In New Britain, the University of Connecticut health specialists donated their time.
This year, UConn doctors gave away 40 pairs of the donated shoes — along with socks — and left 66 pairs behind for those who couldn’t make the event. They screened seven people for foot health problems — two more than last year.
Standing in line at the Friendship Center, Jose Soto said he had no foot health issues, but he was waiting in line for a new pair of shoes.
“Your feet are very important. Believe me, I’m a chef, I work on my feet all day long,” he said.
Soto also lives at the Friendship Center. He worked for years as a professional chef, but lost his job and apartment about a year ago. He said he never expected to end up in line for a free pair of shoes.
“You know, people think that this sort of thing happens to people that are just used to living in the street, but this could happen to anybody. I know nurses and doctors, I know a lot of professional people in the restaurant business that are going through the same situation, you know? It’s just the economy’s real bad.”
Soto was fitted for new pair of Red Wing boots by physician assistant Cindy Baczeski, and then sent on his way.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Baczeski called after him. “Hopefully those will help keep your feet warm.”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Absolutely.”