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Patient Stories

Realizing Her Dream: Dancing After Flat Feet

Growing up in a Russian-Italian family of singers, dancers and musicians, Marie Goglia had always dreamed of becoming a dancer. Her parents and grandparents were semi-professional ballroom dancers. Her grandparents were also Russian folk dancers. Marie’s wish to dance came true thanks to the skill of two doctors at Hospital for Special Surgery almost 60 years ago.

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 John S. Blanco, MD, 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.

Marie shows the autographs she collected from HSS staff that cared for her while she was a patient 60 years ago.

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 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.

Marie's autograph from an orthopedic resident that cared for her while she was a patient at HSS 60 years ago.

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.

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.”