SA doctors leading way in fix for Charcot foot syndrome

Charcot foot associated with diabetes

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio has a diabetes problem and that’s what’s causing people to have a lot of other problems too. Obesity, high blood pressure and strokes are just some of the issues associated with the disease. But the city is also becoming a focal point for neuropathy and something called Charcot foot syndrome.

Nancy Bellone is a diabetic, but she stays very active, or at least she tried to. But one day on a walk, disaster struck.

“My foot actually broke in half, and I didn't realize it so I kept walking,” she said.

Bellone didn’t realize what had happened because of neuropathy, or loss of sensation in her feet. And that was just a start.

“I had ulcers that were open. I couldn’t heal them,” she said.

Bellone finally got diagnosed with Charcot foot syndrome by podiatrist Dr. Thomas Zgonis at the University of Texas Health Science Center. It’s a problem that can lead to an amputation.

"The Charcot foot presents as hot, red and swollen, and it has an incidence of a trauma and an infection and open wound,” Zgonis said.

Charcot foot eventually leads to a bone infection that’s almost impossible to heal. The UT Health Science Center sees more cases of Charcot food than most other centers because doctors like Zgonis are leading the way in what's called external fixation — a way to stabilize the foot and prevent amputation using what looks like a cage.

“It applies multiple pins away from the bone infection that allows us to simultaneously compress and fix a deformity and offload the entire extremity of the patient,” Zgonis said.

Bellone had several surgeries and is now healing.

“I would come in and check it sooner rather than later. I ignored it and it got worse and worse,” she said.

The first warning sign that you may be on the road to Charcot foot syndrome is a blister you didn’t notice you had before. That’s why podiatrists recommend daily foot examination if you are diabetic. 

About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.