A Falcon connection

Alumnae team up with "miraclefeet" to help children

Once a Falcon, always a Falcon. That motto rings true for two BGSU alumnae who never crossed paths for years while they both lived in North Carolina. It was fate and a desire to help children that brought them together in 2015. Kristine Urrutia ’93 was reviewing resumes for a social media manager position at miraclefeet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating the disability caused by clubfoot. She lit up when she came across the resume of Kristina Kelly ’03, a fellow Bowling Green State University graduate.

“Of course I didn’t hire Kristina solely because of the BGSU connection," Urrutia said. "But I must admit, it certainly helped. I knew without a doubt that she had received a top-notch education from the best professors, anywhere.”

Urrutia, director of philanthropy at miraclefeet, called Kelly for a phone interview and, instead of jumping into scripted questions, she shared her BGSU connection and the conversation took an exciting turn.

“I rarely meet Falcons in North Carolina, so I had a great feeling about the job from the beginning,” Kelly said. 

Kelly got the job and together the two women have helped further grow miraclefeet’s reach around the world. To date, the nonprofit has provided treatment to more than 16,000 children in 14 countries.

Clubfoot affects one out of every 750 children worldwide, making it one of the most common birth defects in the world. In the United States, the condition is often diagnosed via ultrasound, treated shortly after birth, and the child typically goes on to live a healthy, active life. In fact, soccer star Mia Hamm, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and legendary football quarterback Troy Aikman were all born with clubfoot and received proper treatment. 

However, children born with clubfoot in low resource countries are not so fortunate where 80 percent have limited or no access to treatment. Due to their disability, these children often face stigma and discrimination and are frequently left alone and hidden away because the family is ashamed. Because walking is so difficult, the children are likely not to attend school and are subject to higher risk for neglect, poverty, physical and sexual abuse.

“Unlike so many of the world’s problems, this one is solvable,” says Urrutia. “I think people really respond to that fact.”

miraclefeet supports local health practitioners in developing countries who are trained in the Ponseti method, a non-surgical treatment that involves a series of simple, properly applied plaster casts that are changed weekly. In 95 percent of cases, this results in full correction of the foot in four to six weeks of casting. Following casting, a brace is worn at night for several years to prevent relapse. The total cost of treatment is only $250 per child. It’s a small price to pay to transform a child’s life.

Urrutia has traveled extensively to miraclefeet-supported clinics, such as those in India and Nicaragua, and sees firsthand the challenges these children face. 

“A child living with untreated clubfoot in a low resource country will most likely live in extreme poverty, face stigma and suffering, and be unable to work productively," Urrutia said. "If we can treat that child when he or she is young, all of that changes. That child can play, run, walk to school, collect water and help in the fields. But, most importantly, that child can eventually get a job and be self-sufficient.” 

The two admit they get a little sidetracked with water cooler talk of stuffed breadsticks at Polleye’s or music at Howard’s. They even lived in the same apartment building on Third Street.

“It’s an incredible feeling to know that two BGSU grads are giving these kids back their childhood and changing the entire trajectory of their life,” says Kelly.

Surrounded by University of North Carolina coworkers, these Falcons are filled with great pride in sharing their college experiences from classrooms to Main Street and Founders Residence Hall. 

“Solid work relationships are key to any success, but working with a fellow Falcon makes it that much more rewarding,” said Urrutia.

A child before and after the miraclefeet treatment