A REVOLVING door of volleyball injuries sparked an interest in physiotherapy for Sam Wills as a teenager.
During high school, he’d hobble in for treatment every month after spraining his ankle, developing a growing respect for the profession.
Sam is now the one treating broken bodies as a paediatric orthopaedic physiotherapist at Western Health – but his charges are much younger.
The tots he sees in a portable building at Sunshine Hospital are as young as two weeks old, born with deformities like club foot or hip dysplasia that need to be nipped in the bud.
The friendly physio decided to specialise in paediatrics after working with children during his training, and appreciates that in most cases he can fix their issues.
“I really enjoy that most of the children I work with will get better, and it’s fun to work with them,” he says.
“Parents are often in the dark and scared when their babies are born with things like club foot, but I can reassure them and move towards a good outcome.”
He says early intervention can also remove the need for surgery for 90 per cent of his patients, which has multiple benefits to families and the hospital.
He runs three clinics a week at Sunshine Hospital in hip dysplasia (a deformed or misaligned hip joint), club foot (turned-in feet) and general orthopaedic assessment.
Hip dysplasia is picked up in babies through screening, with 70 children a year treated with braces for about four months and monitored until they are fully grown.
Without early intervention, the defect can cause arthritis later in life.
Much of his week is spent casting children with club foot, a condition which while readily fixed can be confronting for new mums and dads.
“We see club foot children every week, it’s very intensive but the outcomes are very good,” he says.
“They used to have surgery but the outcomes were very poor, and this takes them off the waiting lists and frees up surgeons to do other surgery.”
A willingness to go the extra mile in his work has seen him become a go-to clinician for Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder affecting one in 20,000 people.
Nine years, ago he’d never heard of the devastating condition, which causes joints to pop out in an endless cycle of pain for sufferers.
Now, he treats seven young patients, and is changing their lives for the better. One of his young patients had been dismissed by a succession of medical experts before coming to Sam.
“I had to learn a lot, it’s not a typical presentation,” he says.
“I have done things differently and used techniques that you might use for other things – it’s not an easy condition to treat.
“There’s the acute emergency side where they come in with dislocations and acute pain, and the conditioning side to keep patients strong and fit to reduce the problems they have. You can’t push them too hard though by virtue of the syndrome.
“It’s been an interesting learning experience.”
His department is currently conducting research on patients to audit the incidence of hip dysplasia among children born at Sunshine Hospital, and the fail-to-attend rate in the club foot follow-up clinic.
The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.
As a staff member, Sam Wills is sharing his story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.
By making a donation on Sam’s behalf – and sharing his story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.