Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) sufferer Jo O’Callaghan has a problem that many of us will recognise: she can only wear one shoe. After struggling with the illness for 17 years, she had a wardrobe full of useless right shoes that were just taking up space. It seemed a shame to throw away perfectly good footwear, but who would possibly want just one of a pair? The dilemma led to a lightbulb moment and Jo’s Odd Shoes was born: a footwear swapping group for anyone who only needs one shoe!
How does it work?
Jo’s idea is brilliantly simple; anyone with a medical condition that means they only wear one shoe can join the group and sign up to swap shoes. It’s also very affordable, as recipients only need to cover the cost of postage for their new shoe. It’s environmentally friendly too, preventing hundreds of shoes from ending up in the rubbish.
Once you’re a member, you can post pictures of your own superfluous footwear and claim any you like the look of from other members. Shoes are organised into galleries by size and side, so that it’s easy to find that right size 8 you’re looking for. Once a swap has been agreed, the recipient pays for postage and the donor pops the shoe in the mail.
What is Jo’s story?
Jo herself started suffering with CRPS more than 17 years ago. In her case, there was no precipitating injury or obvious cause; she simply woke up one morning with pain and numbness down her right side. Initially, the problem was at its worst in her right hand, meaning that right-handed Jo had to learn how to use her left hand for all tasks from writing to brushing her teeth. Jo’s younger son was only 6 months at the time and rather than dwelling on how difficult it was raising a young family with the burden of CRPS, Jo focuses on the upside: “Because of my kids I just had to keep going. They give you to something to keep going for.” It’s an infectious can-do attitude that appears again and again as she speaks.
In recent years, the CRPS has become especially bad in her right foot, meaning that Jo now struggles to walk and is often reliant on a powerchair to move about. She has dystonia so her foot is fixed in a twisted position and suffers from extreme allodynia, so anything touching her foot is simply unbearably painful. It took 10 years of suffering for doctors to work out that Jo had CRPS and during that time she’s gone through every treatment option there is (along with all their associated side effects): nerve blocks, physiotherapy, infusions of lidocaine and ketamine, botox injections for tremors and dystonia, a spinal cord stimulator and vast amounts of various tablets. Unfortunately nothing really worked and Jo is now actively considering amputation.
How did the group get started?
Jo is not one to let illness keep her down, though. She explains that “I wanted to do something to help people, I’ve been trying to think of something to do for a long time, and this group was obviously waiting there for me to set up.” She even credits the group with helping her manage her own CRPS, saying: “This group is my baby. It gives me something to do and takes my mind off the pain.”
The group started small, with Jo initially just inviting fellow CRPS sufferers she already knew to become members of the shoe-swapping team. The idea quickly gained momentum though, and soon Jo was recruiting amputees and anyone else with a requirement for only one shoe. She’s now up to nearly 250 members and the group has organised so many shoe swaps that she’s lost count!
How can I find out more and join the group?
If you’d like to become a member then you can apply by answering some brief questions here.
How can I help?
Right now, Jo is desperate for more shoes, especially men’s. If anyone would like to donate, she’s contactable through the Facebook group or on email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoes of all shapes and sizes are welcome and she’d especially like to hear from any shoe manufacturers or retailers who might want to donate stock that they no longer need.
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