By Alexander Germanis
Before the capstone could be laid atop the greatest pyramid in Giza, before the mooring antenna could lance heavenward from the Empire State Building, before any marvel of engineering spires upward, the structure beneath must be firmly established in order to bear the burdens of what sits above.
The marvel of engineering that is the human body may bear little resemblance to an ancient Egyptian tomb, but it is no less bound by the principals of building. Its structures at the base — the feet and ankles — require the appropriate degree of attention in order to bear the burden of the entire body.
Podiatrist Melissa J. Lockwood, DPM, understands these principals well and she and her team at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates (HFAA) have built and continue to build a practice dedicated to giving the foot and ankle the attention, and in some cases even the pampering, they deserve.
Foundation of Family
It has long been said that necessity is the mother of invention; but necessity often finds a genealogical link to vocation as well. Such was the case with Dr. Lockwood. “When I was younger — five or six,” she recalls, “my mother had some significant foot problems… My dad used to tell me he wanted me to become a podiatrist so I could take care of my mom’s feet. I would joke, ‘I’m not going to do that, Dad; there’s no way.’”
But Dr. Lockwood’s love for her family ended up overriding any qualms she may have had regarding her future profession, particularly during her high school years, when her father developed diabetes. As foot ulcers can be a common threat to diabetics, another trail marker seemed to be placed to indicate Dr. Lockwood’s prescribed path.
“When I was an undergrad, I started working with our primary care physician and a podiatrist in Champaign/Urbana to help take care of my dad,” she continues. “It came back to that conversation I had had with him when I was five or six of how ‘I’m not going to do this,’ and now it’s something that I love.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois, Dr. Lockwood moved on to the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine. She remained in Ohio for her three years of residency before finally returning to her home state and settling in Bloomington with her husband, Scott Heape, and their daughter, Lauren. Her potential paths laid out before her, she knew she wanted to heed poet Robert Frost’s advice.
Normally, in podiatry, “you get out of residency and you join a practice… I knew I didn’t want to do that,” she shares. “I knew I eventually wanted to own my own practice.” Advice from her mentors told Dr. Lockwood that “eventually” could mean immediately, albeit with a fair amount of sacrifice. Taking Frost’s road “less traveled by” was what she truly wanted and Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates was born, but not without some requisite birthing pains. “I knew nothing about owning, running or managing a business,” she admits. “Through hard work and dedication, we ended up being a success.”
Dr. Lockwood contributes part of that success to her team, led by the cheerful Samantha Fowler, a certified podiatric medical assistant. Dr. Lockwood’s first hire, Sam helped establish the foundation of the practice. “Sam is responsible for a lot of what makes HFAA what it is today. Her insight and ideas have helped us out tremendously,” Dr. Lockwood acknowledges. Joining originally as a medical assistant seemed a natural move for Sam, having a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Illinois State University. “I was working as a veterinary technician for five years before this,” she says. “I just moved from paws to feet.”
Sam’s own feet “stepped in all aspects of the office” for a year, until Dr. Lockwood “recognized my potential for management and promoted me to office manager,” she explains. Since then, the pair have built a team and a practice based on a philosophy of family.
As Heartland Foot and Ankle grew, Dr. Lockwood and Sam sought “to create, within the community, a center of excellence for certain types of problems we see a lot of, and to help get [our patients] back on their feet as quickly as possible with the latest technologies available.”
“We have diagnostic ultrasound, digital X-ray, laser therapeutic treatment for pain management so you don’t necessarily have to take medication,” Dr. Lockwood outlines. “And we have, what we feel, the best custom orthotic program in the county, if not Central Illinois.”
“It’s rather innovative,” Sam adds. “An orthotic, with regular wear and tear, will eventually slump down over time and won’t support the arch the way it once did. The material we use can actually be molded back into place with just a stop back in the office.”
“It’s a carbon composite,” Dr. Lockwood explains, “so it can be reheated and brought back up to the original prescription.”
“We have our custom dress orthotics as well,” she continues. “I’m not going to tell you to throw your shoes away. We want to talk about how to work with what you have and then make smarter choices when you buy those next pairs.”
Heartland also offers state-of-the-art laser therapy for pain, inflammation, and even ugly toenails. One of their newest additions is a medi-spa offering relaxing manicures and pedicures within a protected medical environment.
“The medi-spa has been huge. This spring we were booked out six weeks in advance,” Dr. Lockwood says. “Men and women alike can have a private, personalized, one-on-one service where they’re getting a cosmetic service performed but it’s in the safe and sanitary environment of a podiatric office.”
The doctor explains why men might be more likely to treat their feet at the medi-spa. “Men still have the same type of concerns with the cosmetic appearance of their feet as women do; but for gentlemen it’s much easier to say ‘I’m going to the doctor’s office’ and then get their services performed. We even have services specifically designed for men called the ‘manly-cure.’”
“For female patients,” she continues, “there’s a prevalence for onychomycosis or toenail fungus in the U.S. and in our area. One of the biggest concerns is the possibility of contracting a fungus at a spa. We sterilize and sanitize everything between each client assuring no cross-contamination.”
“We love fungus!” Dr. Lockwood and Sam both laugh. “We are happy to treat fungus comprehensively and aggressively. We successfully treat it all the time and enjoy being able to give patients the results they’ve been waiting for.”
Expanding their Footprint
Just as with pyramids and skyscrapers, once the base of a medical practice is established, it needs to stretch up and out to reach its true purpose—to achieve its true goals.
To stretch outward, the team at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates believes in community outreach. “We’re constantly involved with events,” Dr. Lockwood says. “We’re premiere sponsors for the senior expo, I work with local diabetes groups, the Mended Hearts program, and we’ve had an opportunity to speak on a national level to other young podiatrists to explain how we do things here.”
While Dr. Lockwood reaches out publicly, her husband, Scott, works behind the scenes. In addition to being the Billing Manager at HFAA, he continues the condition of community involvement, working as the finance and operations manager for the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.
“I also speak to executive managers and assistants across the country,” Sam continues, “passing on our philosophy that even though you’re not a physician does not mean you can’t have an impactful footprint on your practice.” Sam is also working on creating a nationwide examination and certification for podiatric office managers.
Aside from expanding on their impact in the community, Dr. Lockwood and Sam agree: “We need to expand on our physical footprint. Whether it’s expanding this location or re-centering our efforts to another clinical location in town and keeping this location for administration purposes. We’re [also] adding another physician… someone who has our same philosophy. That’s critical. We’ve worked so hard to build this reputation and to be a pivotal part of the community and we want to make sure the right person comes in and joins us.”
“Our goal is to provide service and prompt treatment for patients with podiatric problems,” Dr. Lockwood continues. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is to provide same-day or next-day appointments for urgent or even non-urgent problems. When you’re calling a doctor, you don’t want to wait three weeks to get in.”
“Our focus is more on personalized attention and less on the quantity of patients we see,” Sam adds.
That is, after all, the structure upon which Dr. Lockwood and her team have built and continue to build the practice on from day to day — making people feel better.” The vast majority of the time in podiatric care,” she says, “I can make someone feel better that day, which is huge and rewarding for me and the patients. I’m really trying to help them live their lives to the fullest.”
Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates is located at 10 Heartland Drive in Bloomington. You may contact Dr. Lockwood at 309-661-9975 or online at www.heartlandfootandankle.com.