The reason why Travis Chan grew up walking on his toes remains a mystery, but the sports-mad teenager is now back on track thanks to surgery at Sunshine Hospital.

TRAVIS Chan could feel the problem every time he ran.

And he could see it, just as clearly, on the soles of his shoes.

“The heels were always brand new and the toes were scuffed to the max,” says Travis, 14.

Throughout his childhood, this sports-mad teenager from Melbourne’s inner west was told by countless doctors and specialists that he would outgrow his painful condition. And some kids do.

But Travis’s case of “idiopathic toe walking” was severe. His shorter-than-normal Achilles tendons meant he was unable to put his feet flat on the ground, and therefore walked and ran on the balls of his feet.

“I was on my toes pretty much, and over time it progressively got worse until I couldn’t even get my heels on the ground,” he says.

“My posture was shocking, and it started to get really painful in my calves and back. I needed to sway to relieve the pressure.”

Travis Chan. Image by Brian Cassey ©

Travis had visited a range of doctors, physiotherapists, podiatrists, osteopaths, chiropractors and masseurs before he was referred to Western Health orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Johnson.

Mr Johnson explains that “toe walking” is sometimes a symptom of autism, or an underlying neuromuscular condition.

“But for others, like Travis, there is no obvious reason,” Ms Johnson says. “Travis had nothing else wrong with him. That’s why his case is ‘idiopathic’, which means the cause is unknown.”

Mr Johnson says while some cases correct themselves, others require casts to help stretch out the shortened tendons. The most severe cases require an operation.

Mr Johnson performed “fractional lengthening” surgery at Sunshine Hospital in December 2016. This involved making several short cuts into the calf tendons on both legs, being careful not to damage nerves, blood vessels and underlying muscle.

This surgery successfully released the tension in Travis’s legs but – as is always the case – it needed to be followed by several months casting and intensive physiotherapy.

Travis, who is a talented tennis player and also enjoys playing Aussie rules and hockey, spent six months in a cast and a further two months in splints. He followed his daily physiotherapy regime religiously, ensuring the estimated time spent in splints was halved.

The day when these supports were removed was a big one in the Chan household.

“This will probably sound a bit dramatic, but it was life-changing for me,” Travis says.

“To walk flat footed and to have the pain released was great. It’s something that most people take for granted.”


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 patient, Travis is sharing his story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.

By making a donation on Travis’s behalf – and sharing his story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.

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