AFO’s Part 5: The final frontier?
Up until this point, I have detailed for you dear readers, my quest to find a new and better AFO. I have shared my reasons for wanting a new brace and communicated my setbacks, frustrations, and failures. This is the fifth and final post in this series devoted to my search.
It became obvious pretty quickly after leaving the Orthotist’s office that I was buying the WalkOn AFO. As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, the WalkOn is not profoundly dissimilar from the rigid plastic AFO, that I was trying to replace but I reasoned pretty quickly that any upgrade was worth it. The difference in weight of the brace alone, I deduced would be worth the cost.
The other important differences between my old AFO and the WalkOn include:
- The thinner foot bed fits into a shoe that is a medium width.
- The rigid support doesn’t come up the back of my heel so there is no extra length required in the shoe.
- The rigid support doesn’t directly make contact with my leg, other than where it fastens below the knee, meaning they will be less warm, and hopefully more comfortable.
Other factors in my quick decision: I was almost certain that my insurance (through work) would cover 80% of the $2500 price tag (slightly less than the $3000 I was anticipating). I also knew that I had the wonderful support of my parents, who would be able and willing to help me with the cost. For all of these reasons, I thought “what do I have to lose?”
I quickly consulted “my people”, and submitted the requisite insurance forms.
Two weeks passed and I went in to have these new AFOs fitted.
I was eager to try them out!
There were moments of frustration at the fitting, which were nobody’s fault. One of the problems with neuropathies is that nerves are “weird” – scientifically speaking. Pain, pressure, or discomfort is often referred to different places. So pressure on one spot of my foot is not felt at that spot, but in a whole other area. This meant that I have a really difficult time telling the Orthotist where the WalkOn was rubbing, and in turn, he had a very hard time guessing how to fix it. We both did our best, and he again offered assurances that I could come back if I had any problems.
Fast forward four weeks, and I now have a more informed review of the WalkOn AFO.
A quick note, this is MY review. I am sharing it in the hopes that others can use the information to make an informed decision, if and when they consider bracing options.
- The WalkOn AFO is indeed more comfortable than my previous rigid plastic AFO.
- It is lighter. Much lighter. The lighter weight helps reduce fatigue, so I am able to walk for longer periods of time, more comfortably. I am able to walk much faster (obviously) than without any AFO (duh!) and maybe a little bit quicker than with the rigid plastic ones.
- The rigid support not making direct contact with my calf is great. It definitely makes them less warm, and therefore more comfortable.
- It is much easier to get my foot into my shoe with the WalkOn since it doesn’t come up behind the heel. This cuts down the time and effort it takes me to get into them.
- It fits into my size 7.5, medium width shoe.
- Like my rigid plastic AFO, from the front, the WalkOn is not visible.
- I haven’t been able to fit an insole into my shoe, on top of the AFO foot bed to act as a cushion. An insole is suggested by Ottobock, but there is no room (height) in my shoe. Also, my toes/feet curl into uncomfortable positions when I have tried an insole. They slide in MUCH easier without. However, this means that my foot is directly on the hard carbon fiber foot bed. This was the case with the rigid plastic AFO, so while it’s not really worse, it’s no better either. On this note, I find it uncomfortable if I’m doing a lot of standing, and it aggravates an ache I have from an old break in my foot that would have been prevented if I had been wearing an AFO, and probably not talking on my cell phone, while walking.
- The brace has given me a blister where it comes around the inside of my foot. But only on the right foot, incidentally. I have MacGyver’d a solution that involves a store-bought gel pad used for high heels(!) while it heals, but I’m not sure how I’m going to manage this over the long-term. I returned to the Orthotist and he fastened plastic cushioning to the area that was rubbing, but it only seemed to rub more. I should probably may make another appointment.
- The cuff that fastens below the knee is quite bulky, and I am anticipating a bit of a challenge fitting it under long pants.
Although I am struggling a bit with the blister, I am pleased with my purchase. The lighter weight of the carbon fiber, and the cooler fit in the summer months have made it worth it. I am also pleased with the overall look of the WalkOn. I have had a few of the “peeps” mention that they look more “new age” and “techy” and less “medical” or “old”.
Score one for vanity!
Finally, I feel that I must spend a minute ranting about discussing the price point. At $2500, this was not a “thrifty” purchase. The Assistive Devices Program (ADP) here in Ontario, does not presently cover any of the cost of a carbon fiber AFO like the Walk On. ADP will subsidize the cost of the rigid plastic AFO however. For some, this isn’t a decision they can make – the rigid plastic AFO is their only option. I am fortunate to have benefits through work that did in fact cover 80% of the cost of the WalkOn. This still left a $500 out-of-pocket cost but I was able to afford it. I mention this because I think it really is a shame that there is no available public funding (that I know of) for a solution other than the very base option. I can guarantee that these new AFOs have made me more active, and consequently maybe more able, than my previous ones. This may very well in some way lessen the public health care I need, and increase my productivity, participation and contribution to society.
*end of rant*
No doubt, I will write posts in the future about self-esteem and body image, and how having an assistive device like an AFO/brace/cane/walker affects who we are, how other people see us, and how we see ourselves, but I feel like this series on this aspect of the journey has been a worthwhile exercise for me and I hope others.
I made a decision to try for something better. I faced some difficult, demoralizing situations, and I learned about myself and my illness. I’m happier, and more active in the end, and while it may not be the perfect solution I was hoping for it was worth it.
A quick final thought: I’d love to hear from anyone who has faced a similar challenge generally, and specifically regarding an AFO. This exercise (further) demonstrated to me the need for resources and firsthand accounts such as these, and also a constructive discussion around accessibility and support. Let me know what you think.