Stepping up:
Dr. Mohammad Rimawi helps patients put their best foot forward

Home/Culture and People, Services/Stepping up: Dr. Mohammad Rimawi helps patients put their best foot forward

As the Floating Hospital’s podiatry provider, Dr. Rimawi, DPM, sees patients with a broad range of concerns—from foot pains and ankle aches to diabetes and arthritis, and a lot in between.

“Podiatry is a crucial service to our population and this is where education really comes into play, especially if people have limited resources,” he says. “If we can educate and prevent the problem from occurring, we can solve a lot of health issues.”

A year into his practice at The Floating Hospital (he is also an associate at a medical office in midtown Manhattan), Dr. Rimawi has developed a bit of a “MacGyver” ingenuity when it comes to finding solutions for patients with limited resources. A roll of tape and a bit of felt padding become a fix for pricey shoe inserts. A basin of warm water and Epsom salts for heel pain does the same trick as a $200 massager.

“It’s a bit like arts and crafts, making the best of what you have in front of you,” he said. “It’s all about using little things patients can replicate themselves.”

“You have to look at each patient and their demographics, factor those things in and come up with a solution that works for them,” he said. “Patients get discouraged if you give them unapproachable tasks or goals; the idea is to make them feel involved in their care.”

Patient education is a key component

Dr. Rimawi says much of his time is spent explaining both present and potential conditions, especially for those at risk for diabetes. “I am very much invested in patients who are diabetic because things go south very quickly if unattended.” Adjacent to disease education are discussions about nutrition, not only for its role in diabetes, but in bone growth and density, or obesity, which “plays a huge role in foot and ankle problems.”

“Lower extremities like the ankles and the foot can only take so much load before they eventually collapse, and when they do, that leads to things like bone cysts, arthritis and tendonitis,” he said. It’s not uncommon for at-risk patients to ignore the conditions until they become intolerable, at which point, he says, there’s “not much to offer” in treatment options before surgery.

Foot problems are not restricted to athletes and elderly people: Dr. Rimawi says children often suffer, especially when they can’t afford to buy proper shoes for their growing feet. He cited the recent case of a 12-year-old girl with severe toe pain. Examining her foot in her shoe, he could feel her toes jammed up against the front of her shoe.

“She had been wearing the same sneakers for almost 18 months—for a growing child that’s very tough,” he said. “It’s vital kids have proper foot treatment because what they do now affects them for a lifetime.”

For Dr. Rimawi, podiatry was a personal thing. A Brooklyn native, he was drawn to the specialty as a former injury-prone basketball player. Sidelined from his college basketball scholarship after an ankle injury, he considered studying sports medicine, but of the two subspecialties—orthopedics or podiatry—the latter “resonated because it has a further reach into underserved communities,” an issue important to him as a person of Arab heritage, (Arabs have some of the highest prevalence of  Type 2 diabetes in the world). He called his work a “balance between taking care of athletes and really impacting other people’s lives.”

He’s looking forward to moving into The Floating Hospital’s new clinic this spring and welcoming patients on a whole new level.

“It’s very well known that a patient’s perception as soon as they walk into a clinic dictates how they feel about their treatment,” he said. “When patients see their providers made the effort to have their clinics look presentable, then they have confidence their providers will make the effort to take care of them as well.”

But even in the new digs, Dr. Rimawi will still be a MacGyver kind of guy, finding workable ways for patients to put one foot in front of the other.

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital will move into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City in 2021 and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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