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AFOs, Shoes, and Tears, Oh My!

One of my first public breakdowns over Olivia’s cerebral palsy occurred in a shoe store, of all places.  Olivia was little, probably 2 1/2 or 3 years old, and had been fitted with her first AFOs (ankle foot orthoses).  The braces themselves were as cute as something that therapeutic could be…a very girly pink with butterflies printed all over.  However, as soon as I saw the AFOs, I knew it was going to be a challenge to find shoes to wear with them.  AFOs tend to be bulky. The hard plastic they are made of molds around the foot and extends up the leg to just below the knee.  In addition, some AFOs articulate at the ankle, so there may be hinges in that area.  In order to fit shoes over this extra material, you obviously need extra width.  Some people are lucky enough to be able to find shoes that are wide enough without having to buy a shoe that is 2 or 3 sizes too long in length.  We were not so lucky.  I ventured out to a particular shoe store (I won’t mention any names.  I think the sales girl who was helping us was traumatized enough by my tears.  She doesn’t need someone from headquarters hassling her for not making the sale!).  I had been told that other CP moms had been successful at finding shoes for their kiddos at this particular store.  Well, after trying on every pair of girly shoes in the store (and even some not so girly ones…), Olivia was getting crabby, I was getting frustrated, and the sales girl’s cheerful smile was beginning to fade.  Our last hope, she said, was to try some of the wider boy shoes.  “BOY SHOES??!!!” the mother voice inside me roared.  Now don’t get me wrong, this is not some sort of gender-bias thing.  I have seen plenty of cute boy shoes….I’ve even been known to slip on a pair of men’s Converse or Sorels.  But for my little girl’s first pair of shoes???  No boy shoes, please.  The tears didn’t actually start when I saw the  black and red shoes with yellow cars appliquéd on them.  No, the real crying began when even those shoes didn’t fit.  I was a blubbering mess by the time  I gathered up my little toddler and practically ran to the nearest mall exit.

So, why the dramatic story?  Because it has a happy ending, of course!  My little bout of public humiliation that day motivated me to find some decent shoes for Olivia to wear with her braces.  And I definitely found them!  A pretty extensive web search finally led me to Hatchbacks Footwear, a shoe company that sells shoes especially designed for kids who wear AFOs. In addition to being wider to accommodate AFOs, they also feature a unique heel section that folds open to allow easier entry.  I was thrilled with the first pair we received, and we’ve been buying them ever since (at least 6 years now). They come in several colors and styles for both boys and girls.  I recommend them every chance I get.  Even if you haven’t shed any tears trying to find shoes to fit your child, you should definitely check out their amazing products.

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