Eugene Tarsky, 73, had never heard of peripheral artery disease (PAD) when he was first diagnosed three years ago. Though the news was troubling, careful monitoring by doctors and a commitment to reducing his risk factors have kept him healthy and free from complications.
Learning about PAD
“I was preparing to have a cardiac stent implanted when angiography of my legs discovered narrowing of the arteries in my left leg and an aneurysm behind my right knee,” says Tarsky.
Doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital Vascular Center diagnosed Tarsky with PAD, a condition affecting nearly 10 million Americans.
PAD is caused by a build up of fatty deposits, also called plaque, in the arteries of the legs. When these plaques enlarge they restrict blood flow to the legs and feet – a condition called atherosclerosis that can cause discomfort and occasionally lead to amputation of a toe, foot or leg.
Luckily, once diagnosed, PAD has several treatment options, including medication or revascularization procedures, and can be managed through lifestyle modifications.
“When a patient is diagnosed with PAD, I first assure them that the risk of serious leg complications is low since it is a very treatable condition,” says Dr. Michael Jaff, medical director the Mass General Hospital Vascular Center. “I also talk with the patients about the impact of this disease on their lives. With PAD comes an increased risk of coronary artery disease and stroke, so these patients must adjust their lifestyles to control risk factors, including quitting smoking and getting more exercise.”
Careful observation of the condition by doctors can also uncover symptoms indicative of a more serious problem related to PAD. Signs that the condition is worsening include:
- Discomfort in the foot or leg that awakens you from sleep
- A blister of sore on the foot or toe that does not heal
- Sudden difficulty walking distances.
“Dr. Jaff wrote me a note describing the symptoms of PAD that I keep right at my desk. If am having a problem I look at it and decide if I need to call,” says Tarsky.
Tarsky made frequent trips to Mass General for appointments with Dr. Jaff and Deborah Hines, NP, to monitor the disease progress. Two years after being diagnosed, Kenneth Rosenfield, MD, section head of Vascular Medicine and Intervention performed an angioplasty of the left leg to restore blood flow. Subsequently, Richard Cambria, MD, chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at the Vascular Center, repaired the aneurysm beyond Tarsky’s right knee.
Reducing Risk Factors
Recent vascular tests have shown normal blood flow to his legs, but Tarksy remains vigilant about keeping them healthy. He has made a habit of walking to keep fit.
“Sometime it takes more of an effort to start, but then I remember that once you take the first little step it gets easier from there,” says Tarsky.
Tarsky considers a short walk to be about a mile and sometimes walks up to five miles. He can also climb the four flights of stairs to his office without a problem. Adding this activity has helped his PAD and other cardiovascular risk factors.
“I have really seen the benefits of walking, so I can push myself to go more often,” he says. “Walking also keeps me more relaxed and alert.”
“Everyone I have met throughout this process has been extremely helpful and caring.” he adds. “It’s a pleasure to deal with people who are truly interested and invested in my heath.”