New York, NY—January 5, 2010
At the age of eight or nine, Marie developed such severe pain in her feet she could barely walk, let alone dance. When she was younger and had foot pain, her parents often carried her around. But she was getting too old for that, and the pain was getting worse.
Her mother took her to several doctors who were at a loss about how to treat her. "One doctor told my mother I had tuberculosis of the bone. When my mother started crying, I got very scared," Marie recalls.
Although they lived in Coney Island at the time, her mother found out about Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. At HSS she learned her daughter did not have normal arches, and this led to painful flat feet. The problem is sometimes caused by a condition called tarsal coalition, according to Dr. John Blanco, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon currently at HSS who sees patients in Manhattan, Long Island and Queens. In tarsal coalition, two or more bones in the foot fuse together, limiting motion and often leading to a stiff and painful flat foot.
Another possible cause of painful flat feet is a condition called accessory navicular, in which there is an extra piece of bone, about the size of a jelly bean, on the inner side of the foot just above the arch.
Most often, flat feet are caused by loose joints. "The ligaments in the foot are weak. People usually don't have pain, but they may wear out shoes more quickly," Dr. Blanco explains. "When it’s due to loose joints, parents bring in their children because they're worried about how their feet look. Most children have no symptoms, though, and they can get by with good shoes."
Marie Goglia's case was clearly not the norm. It was so severe that the doctors said she needed surgery to correct it. "They told me, 'We may not be able to get you up on your toes like a ballerina, but you will be able to walk and you will be able to dance'," she recalls.
At age 11, she had surgery on both feet. She remembers spending two or three months in the hospital, in a cast from her toes to her hips, but the operations were a success. Back then, it was not uncommon for children to spend weeks or even months in the hospital following major surgery.
Marie shows the autographs she collected from HSS staff that cared for her while she was a patient 60 years ago.
Marie received schooling at HSS and recalls colorful clowns, magicians and dancers dressed like gypsies who came to entertain the young patients.
Following physical therapy, she was able to walk, and it wasn’t long before she learned to dance. "My mother and father were like Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. They taught me how to dance," she explains. "I would put my feet on top of my father’s to learn."
Mrs. Goglia, now 70, called HSS to tell her story after seeing an advertisement for the hospital featuring a silhouette of dancers. "I was so grateful when I saw the ad. It reminded me of how they helped me," she says. "To me, it was miraculous. I still think it is. I probably would have been in a wheelchair if it hadn’t been for the hospital," she says.
The doctors enabled her to become pain-free and participate in all the activities she loved throughout her life. When she was in her 20's, she did the twist with Chubby Checker on stage at a nightclub. She also worked as waitress and go-go dancer in a Brooklyn club. She was able to roller skate, as well, and even participated in a roller derby.
Marie's autograph from an orthopedic resident that cared for her while she was a patient at HSS 60 years ago.
Best of all, she was able to enjoy ballroom dancing. She and her late husband were often called on to entertain their friends at weddings and other events.
Today, the retired real estate broker lives in Patchogue, Long Island, and has two sons, two daughters and six grandchildren. She still dances in her kitchen when a good song comes on the radio. "I can still do the can-can, as long as I’m holding on to the kitchen counter," she says.
Tremendous medical advances have taken place since Mrs. Goglia’s surgery 59 years ago. Less invasive techniques and other innovations mean children no longer spend months or even weeks in the hospital after surgery.
"If a child is having pain, it’s important for it to be accurately diagnosed and treated," Dr. Blanco says. "Conditions can usually be treated more easily at a young age, before other problems develop or other joints are affected."
Editor's note: Dr. Blanco sees patients for pediatric orthopedics at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan; on Long Island at 333 Earle Ovington Boulevard, Uniondale; and in Queens at 176-60 Union Turnpike, Fresh Meadows.
About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the eighth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2017-2018). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic on musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.