A chance meeting at a Jewish singles event led to a mission to combat pain

A chance meeting at a Jewish singles event led to a mission to combat pain

“It’s almost like bubble wrap for your feet.”

Beth and Jeffrey Gusenoff (Photo courtesy of the Gusenoffs)
Beth and Jeffrey Gusenoff (Photo courtesy of the Gusenoffs)

A breakthrough in treating chronic foot pain, as well as the roots of a new Pittsburgh business, started at a wine-and-cheese singles event at a Rochester, New York, shul around 20 years ago.

Jeffrey, who came from Boston, was taking part in a plastic surgery residency at the University of Rochester’s medical school. Beth, a New York native, was a podiatrist in private practice. The two met at Temple Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in upstate New York.

Sparks didn’t necessarily fly. But, four years later, the two met again.

This time, it stuck.

The couple dated for several years, married in 2010 and moved to Pittsburgh two years later.

“After we got married, we were discussing work at dinner,” said Beth Gusenoff, who lives in Shadyside and attends services at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland. “I had seen a patient with terrible pain from a lack of fat on the bottom of their feet from years of standing on hard surfaces.

Meanwhile, Jeff was adding fat back to areas all over the body — except the feet — by transferring one’s own fat from areas of excess to areas of need.”

“I wish you could put fat in people’s feet,” Beth quipped.

Jeff replied: “Why can’t we?”

The Gusenoffs started clinical trials through UPMC to do just that. They wanted to know if inserting fat into a person’s foot could alleviate chronic pain or address chronic plantar fasciitis, a common foot affliction. In short: It showed promise, and it improved patients’ quality of life.

“Patients came to see us from all over the world after having been treated by lots of doctors, with no pain relief,” Beth Gusenoff said. “It’s not a common thing to find a plastic surgeon and a podiatrist working together.”

Many patients came to the trials, which ran for roughly 10 years, with bags filled with a variety of their inserts and shoes.

“They’d MacGyver all these pads!” Beth laughed.

As they worked alongside patients in recovery, the Gusenoffs had an idea: an anatomically designed insole that made it feel like the patient was walking on air.

Then, PopSole was born.

Jeff Gusenoff said the concept is pretty simple: “It’s almost like bubble wrap for your feet.”

PopSole is adjustable, versatile and waterproof, the Gusenoffs said. Callous on your foot bothering you? Simply “pop out” the insole’s “bubble” near the location on your foot and you have less pressure, as well as an insole that won’t further irritate the skin.

PopSoles could be particularly effective, the Gusenoffs believe, for retired athletes whose repeated pressure on the forefoot and heel could have led to high arches.

Danielle Hildebrand understands that angle. A senior physical therapist for eight years at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, she frequently sees athletes with sore feet. She also works with dancers from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Hildebrand said she helped the Gusenoffs create an exercise plan for patients after having the fat injected into their feet.

“I think it’s definitely a good option for patients transitioning out of a bad injury … or someone with localized pain,” she said. “You can manipulate (a PopSole) — it’s very versatile.”

The Gusenoffs’ product is also very local. They run the company, BRG Innovations LLC, out of their Shadyside home and have developed, researched and manufactured the PopSole insole in Pittsburgh.
The adjustable bubbles make the product more accommodating than the insoles typically found in a pharmacy, the Gusenoffs said.

“Sometimes you go and you take something off the shelf,” Jeffrey Gusenoff said. “You get what you get and you can’t get upset. But with this, you can customize.”

“We are passionate about educating people, healing people and keeping people active, healthy and walking comfortably,” Beth Gusenoff said. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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