Karen Taylor, CFts, CMF, switched from spreadsheets and figures to shoes and feet. The Benton, Ky., ABC-certified therapeutic shoe fitter is glad she did.
“I wanted to be an accountant because I didn’t think I was a people person,” said Taylor, co-owner of At Home Medical Equipment and Supplies. “But when I became an accountant, people said to me, ‘You can really talk to people.’”
Taylor is also a BOC-certified mastectomy fitter.
“Teri Jones, my co-owner, is a 30-year breast cancer survivor,” Taylor said. “People come through our door just after they have had surgery, and they are terrified. We laugh with them, we cry with them, we hold their hand.”
Before and after surgery
Taylor said many women know little or nothing about full- and partial breast prostheses. “We’ve had women come to us who had surgery 5 or 10 years before and still weren’t wearing forms or they were told to just stick a sock in their bra.”
Many women are unaware that their health insurance plans usually cover breast forms, Taylor said.
“A lot of women are apprehensive when they go into the fitting room,” she said. “They don’t know what to expect. But they can walk out the door and nobody will know they have had a mastectomy. It helps that Teri can relate to them.”
Jones and Taylor invite women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to see them before surgery. “We can show them the forms and explain about the insurance,” Taylor said. “We want to put them at ease and educate them about the options available to look natural again.
“Regardless of the patient’s surgery choice, such as a lumpectomy, mastectomy or even reconstruction, full or partial breast forms are available options to compensate for any unevenness.”
Taylor also educates her patients who have diabetes. She fits them in appropriate footwear and heat-moldable inserts.
“A lot of them don’t understand their risk of losing a foot or a leg. They have no clue. Some of them even wear flip-flops. So I try to teach them the importance of wearing proper shoes.”
Taylor encourages her patients to examine their feet daily. She has seen feet embedded with a toothpick and a hearing aid battery.
“Their neuropathy was so bad they couldn’t feel it.”
Another client with severe neuropathy told Taylor “she would walk out of her shoes at church because she had no feeling in her feet. She was in her 40s.”
Taylor urges patients with diabetes of all ages to not go barefoot. Going shoeless invites even a minor injury that could lead to a major infection and amputation.
Even so, some patients, especially women, balk at wearing therapeutic shoes, Taylor said. For years, such these shoes were long on comfort and support but short on style.
“That is all changing,” Taylor said. “The shoe companies are doing wonderfully with all the colors — white to the pinks and blues and red for women. We even have steel-toed work boots so patients who are diabetic can work on the river or in the plants and protect their feet.”
Taylor said more than a few women still hate to forego fashion footwear. “Some of the ladies like to wear their dress shoes with the heels. I tell them they’re your ‘two-hour shoes.’ You can wear them to church, but then go back to your diabetic shoes. I tell them the safety of their feet is more important than how the shoe looks.”
A thorough examination
Taylor helps promote foot safety by carefully examining and measuring her client’s feet. “Even if they say their doctor just examined their feet, I say I am going to examine their feet, in case changes occurred since their last doctor’s exam.”
She checks each foot for pulse, temperature and edema. She looks for corns, calluses, bunions and other problem spots. “If they are elderly, and I see their toenails need trimming, I explain to them that Medicare will pay for a podiatrist to have them trimmed. A lot of them don’t know that.”
After the exam, Taylor shows her clients the shoes that can help solve their foot problems. That can be a problem for her, too.
“I had a woman with Charcot foot get upset at the shoes I showed her. She said her feet weren’t that bad,” Taylor said. “Or you get a woman with double wide feet, and she wants to be put in a little dainty Mary Jane.”
Sometimes, shoe size is an issue. Taylor’s shiny blue, yellow and silver Dr. Comfort Brannock Device often shows clients they need a larger size. “They all want that little petite foot they don’t have any more.
“So many women have that petite, tiny feet mindset. If they don’t want the shoe I recommend, they are free to leave. That is their choice. But I am not going to do anything to harm them.”
Taylor said many of her patients do not believe diabetes can hurt them, and quickly.
“They think if they ever need an amputation, it will be years in coming. They think it is a slow process.”
She cited a man with diabetic neuropathy who accidentally stepped on a knife. “He was wearing shoes but the knife cut his toe. Within 3 months the leg was amputated just below the knee from this incident.”
Other patients convince themselves that medication alone will take care of their diabetes. “They look at it like high blood pressure,” Taylor said. “They think, ‘I’ll be okay as long as I take my pills. I can still eat and drink what I want because the medicine will cure it.’”
Taylor stresses to her patients that it takes a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to effectively control diabetes.
“The right shoes and inserts fitted properly to accommodate their foot issues are a preventive measure to protect their feet from future diabetic foot complications, including amputation.”
Taylor keeps close tabs on all of her patients. “We follow up. If their shoes don’t fit, we want to know. Even if they decide they don’t like how the shoes look, they can bring them back.”
At Home Medical has been open for nearly 6 years. “There’s no place like Home,” is the firm’s motto.
Taylor and Jones literally built their business from the inside out. As soon as the duo bought the metal building that houses their company, they went to work gutting it. “In 45 days we were open,” Taylor said.
She is not sorry she gave up number crunching at a local government agency in a nearby town.
“I love what I do. I guess I was more of a people person than I thought I was.”