I've been a Nurse Practitioner for more than 40 years. And until four years ago I never would've imagined myself at age 57 to be on the receiving end of the healthcare system, fighting for my life and limb. But in 2017 I started feeling some cramping in my legs, which I initially blamed on my car and seat position as it seemed to only occur while driving. Soon after, I started experiencing claudication every twenty feet or so while walking. My legs would spasm then go numb from my buttocks, down through my thighs and into my calf muscles.
I never saw myself on this side of the healthcare system, fighting for life & limb.
The first diagnosis was two slipped discs and spinal degeneration from L5 to S1. The surgeons thought I was too high risk to operate, so they left me to maneuver in a wheelchair. It wasn't until two years ago, when my symptoms progressed to include my toes turning blue, that my family physician referred me to a vascular specialist. An Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) test and ultrasound confirmed a Peripheral Artery Disease diagnosis with severe stenosis in my iliac arteries. Two months later a vascular specialist performed an angiogram for further exploration and possible treatment. He discovered an additional area of concern, a mild stenosis at the distal end of my Aorta. He stopped the procedure and marked me as palliative, which meant there was nothing anyone could do to restore flow in my arteries. Apparently he wasn't skilled in treating complex lesions and assumed others would also fail.
I refused to settle for a death sentence. I learned from reading posts in The Way To My Heart's network that different doctors have different tools and techniques. So, I paid $1,000 out-of-pocket for my own CT scan and got a second opinion from a highly skilled endovascular specialist who is known for his advanced limb salvage skills.
During the virtual consult he immediately commented on the extent of my arterial disease. He said the only thing keeping my legs alive were my collateral blood vessels. They're tiny blood vessels that typically remain dormant. When the body's main arteries are narrowed, limiting blood flow, to the point where critical nutrients such as oxygen aren't being transported throughout the body, these collateral vessels may enlarge and become active.
My new vascular specialist, knowing my medical history, couldn't help but wonder how a woman in a wheelchair had such dilated collateral vessels. Granted, I was still in advanced stage P.A.D, known as Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI). But at least tissue loss wasn't extensive and no ulcers had developed.
How did I manage to kick my collateral network into gear?
You might be wondering how I managed that with debilitating pain that left me wheelchair-bound for years with barely a few steps to bathroom, the couch, and the bed. I started seeing other P.A.D. Warriors who suffered from disabling pain and yet still managed to take steps to better health. They would celebrate even taking 300 steps one day and 305 the next. Fellow P.A.D. Warriors would cheer them on. So, I gathered up the courage to enter a one month walking challenge by The Way To My Heart. I set my goal for 500 steps daily.
Sitting and waiting for physicians to do something for me was disempowering, leaving me feeling vulnerable, helpless, and hopeless. Walking is clinically proven to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and increase self-esteem. So, instead of feeling hopeless and helpless, I was feeling more in control of my own fate for the first time in awhile. I felt empowered suddenly, which led me to push for a new leader of my vascular care team who could be my true partner in health. While I was still in CLI and in critical need of intervention, my new physician said that walking more saved my limbs. He also said that seeing me already willing to take steps to better health gave him more confidence that when he performs an intervention to restore more flow through my main arteries, that my vessels would be more likely to remain patent.
Walking is the best medicine for P.A.D. Some can walk more than others. Remember, it's not a competition. Every person with P.A.D. is unique in their experience. You set your goals in partnership with your physician and feel satisfaction with every step you take. Your life and limb depend on it.
If I can do it, you can, too!
Check out this step-by-step handbook on how to effectively grow a natural bypass by walking! It's FREE!