Podiatrist Lowell Weil Sr. had to travel to Papua New Guinea to find people without any foot problems.
"I went there to look at their feet because there'd been a paper written that showed that none of them had bunions. In fact, they have big toes that go out in the other direction," he said, noting the natives never wore shoes. "I had to see it for myself and I did. I took hundreds of pictures of the natives sticking their feet out."
That solidified for Weil that shoes are a big culprit in aggravating bunions, although not necessarily causing them.
Weil, medical director of the Weil Foot and Ankle Institute in Des Plaines, has seen a lot of bunions, flat feet and other painful conditions below the ankle in 45 years of practice.
His specialty is the front part of the foot, where he designed an operation to shorten a bone causing pain under the ball of the foot that a French orthopedic surgeon named for him.
"I was in France lecturing. Somebody asked me from the audience, 'What do you do for this condition?' and there was a blackboard back in those days and I drew a picture. The next thing I knew, I came back to America and a friend of mine, an orthopedic surgeon, said to me, 'What the hell is this Weil osteotomy?'"
Most recently, he and his son, Lowell Weil Jr. of Lake Forest, who's part of the practice, lectured to a Chicago audience about the results of a nine-year study that showed sonic shockwave therapy has been effective in treating plantar fasciitis, a common form of heel pain.
Weil Sr. is also an expert in the "Refrigerator stepped on me" condition -- a reference to the jokes he heard from teammates of former Chicago Bear William "Refrigerator" Perry during the 25 years he spent as the football team's podiatrist.
Weil grew up in Skokie, where his parents long ran Weil Women's Clothing in downtown Skokie.
He settled with his wife, Nancy, in Glenview 37 years ago, in a house once owned by former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner.
Weil served on the Glenview Village Board from 1986 to 1990. His wife was on the Glenview School District 34 Board from 1980 to 1987.
Now a grandparent of six, Weil balances work with time at their second home in Mexico and travel.
"It's fun to be able to help people and meet the kind of people we meet," he said. "I never thought I'd be able to lecture in 29 countries and travel everywhere. I thought I'd have a nice little practice in Des Plaines, Ill. but it turned into something more than that."
-- Lynne Stiefel
Originally published August 10, 2010 in Glenview Announcements