For 50-year-old Ron Robinson, the classic signs of a heart attack came on quickly. He awoke in the middle of the night with pain in the back of his arms that soon moved to his chest. Employed in the construction industry, in recent weeks Ron had begun to worry about keeping his job in the tough economy, and when the symptoms came on, he first thought he was having an anxiety attack. As he stood up to wake his wife, he began to sweat.
“Right then I knew, I must be having a heart attack,” he said. “I had just turned 50 years old. I couldn’t believe I was having a heart attack.” But he didn’t delay. He told his wife to call 9-1-1.
On the way to Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, paramedics gave him medications to dilate his blood vessels. He was taken to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, where Dr. Laurence Kelley, an interventional cardiologist, performed angioplasty, a procedure to open up the blockages and restore blood flow to the heart. Dr. Kelley also inserted a stent to keep the blockage open.
“While he was treating my heart attack, Dr. Kelley found a blockage in my leg as well,” said Ron. “I had had leg and back pain for some time. Because I worked in construction, I was frequently lifting heavy objects. I also enjoyed hiking. I knew I had pain in my leg, but I just thought I had just pulled a muscle.”
In fact, Ron had peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a condition in which the vessels in the legs, arms or other parts of the body become blocked, similar to how the arteries to the heart can become blocked. Because plaque can build up anywhere in the circulatory system, patients with blockages to their heart may also have blockages elsewhere in the body.
For patients like Ron, blockages can restrict blood flow to the muscles, causing muscle cramps, tightness or weakness, especially during activities. In the early stages of PAD, patients may not experience any symptoms. If PAD is not treated, though, blockages may continue to grow and restrict, or even completely block, blood flow. This could lead to tissue damage, and in severe cases, patients may need to have a limb amputated.
Fortunately for Ron, the blockage was caught early. He returned to the hospital several weeks later and Dr. Mark Turco, also an interventional cardiologist at Washington Adventist Hospital, performed an angioplasty to open up the blockage.
“Just like blockages in the heart, blockages in the vessels of the legs or other limbs can reduce blood flow to the muscles, causing pain,” said Dr. Turco. “In fact, patients who have blockages in the arteries of their heart are at greater risk for PAD. Fortunately, for many patients PAD can be diagnosed with a simple, painless test in which your primary care doctor measures your blood pressure at your ankles and arms.”
Patients who are treated for PAD find they are able to return to a very high quality of life that they had been missing. Like Ron, may patients have their symptoms go unrecognized or the symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions, so it is critical for both primary care doctors and patients to understand the symptoms of PAD and seek medical attention.
Following the angioplasty, Ron quickly noticed a change. “Right away, the pain in my leg was gone. I couldn’t believe how quickly I felt better,” said Ron. “I had been living with the pain. Now, I haven’t had any trouble with that leg.”
Like his earlier angioplasty, the angioplasty for his leg did not require an open surgery. The minimally invasive procedure meant Ron was able to return home later that day and return to his normal activities the next day. Since his treatment, Ron and his wife have made cardiovascular health their top priority.
“My wife loves to cook. Over the past few months, she’s gotten a few heart-healthy recipe books. You can still eat well, even with heart disease,” said Ron. “Following my treatments, I’m able to do all the activities I used to do, and I try to get out and take long walks as often as I can.” Recently, Ron lost his job, and though job hunting can be stressful, he also looks for ways to manage his stress.
“I have a lot to be grateful for,” he said. “I know many people don’t survive a heart attack or have complications from PAD. I’m now learning to enjoy my new, healthier lifestyle.”