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Save My Piggies: Meet "Kim"

Why "Kim" said no to a second amputation & what happened next!

· Patient Stories,Save My Piggies

Dr. Phillips: Good morning and afternoon, everybody. My name is Dr. John Phillips. This is the inaugural podcast of "Save My Piggies," a podcast dedicated to patients with peripheral arterial disease in an attempt to raise awareness. Our first guest is a patient of mine that I've had since I was looking back 2015. Her name is "Kim." She has quite a story to tell as she's been through quite a bit with respect to her disease process.

Kim shares a few things:

  • The secret of not giving up when faced with an amputation,
  • How to find the motivation to persevere when all odds are stacked against you, 
  • The  real struggle with smoking cessation despite diagnosis.

Dr. Phillips: I was looking back to when you and I first met in 2015 and this was after you had already had the amputation on the right side as well as several other procedures to attempt to unblock arteries in your leg. I believe you even had a bypass as well. It's been quite a journey for you. I'll let you start with

Kim: Yep. I met you, like you said, shortly after I had my amputation. They'd done the first amputation on the right leg, and then I went from there to two weeks later, had to go higher up into the thigh area. So, I'm Above-The-Knee (ATK/AK) now. And it's been a battle since then, but thanks to you I can say I still have my left leg. You've done two different surgeries on it and saved it to keep them from amputating it. And I'm very grateful for that. It's been a long road. I mean, one battle after another, but I don't give up. I have to keep fighting. I've got 13 grandchildren and a wonderful husband and my kids, and I don't give up. So, I don't want to give up, but it's been a long battle. I've got artificial arteries in the remains of my right side that they put in. I had aortic-bypass done twice prior to this. And I am now in stage 4 renal failure. So, I'm battling that as well. So, it's tough to truly describe my journey except to say it's really been a long journey for us.

You are an inspiration to patients who have suffered similar events. Take me back to before I met you when they told that you needed an amputation in the right leg? What did that feel like when those words were said?

It was very scary. Very scary. I had had numerous surgeries. I had had shots in my back. They kept telling me for years that I had a pinched nerve in my back because my leg hurt so bad. I couldn't walk. My foot was cold constantly and ached and throbbed all the time. And they kept telling me that it was a pinched nerve, and the lower extremity study came back and said that it wasn't a pinched nerve at all, but the arteries was all blocked in my leg. And so, I had to go to a different doctor for that, and they told me that I had the choice of either dealing with the pain for the rest of my life and it eventually dying and having to take it, or to go ahead and take it now because I was in so much excruciating pain. And I opted because I was in so much pain to go ahead and do it. And like I said, they did the first one, it was BK. And then the second one, two weeks later, they had to go Above-The-Knee (ATK/AK) because there was still no blood flow there. And they said that, you know, I had no other choice and had to keep an eye on this left one because it was damaged as well. And that's when I started seeing you, by the grace of God. And you've done surgery on the left one right away and saved it. And then it's only been maybe a year ago with that that you've done the second surgery on it to save it again because it was dying as well again.

Let's go back to the time period before doctors told you that you needed the amputation. Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently? The reason I ask is because part of why we're doing this podcast is to raise awareness to patients and medical professionals that, in my opinion, amputation should not be the first option. Do you feel like you were backed into a corner at that point and didn't have any other option but to go through with what your trusted doctor had suggested was the 'only' option? 

Yes. I felt like I was backed into a corner and I didn't have any other options because that's what the doctors were telling me, "There's no other choice." You've either got to live with the pain and live on pain medicine constantly, which wasn't helping, and/or let them amputate in order to do away with the pain. And so, yes, I did feel like I was backed into a corner. Aside from the aortic bypass I had to have what I thought was simply a CAT scan done. And when they put me on the CAT scan table, I was fine. And when I came out, I was laying in a pool of blood, clear up the back of my head and my right groin had literally exploded, physically exploded, and I had to go into emergency surgery. I don't know what happened. It just seemed to be one thing right after another, They told my husband everything was ok after surgery. But then not long after he got the call that they were taking me back into emergency surgery because I had started hemorrhaging out because my right groin area had exploded for the second time.

it's just gone from one thing right into another. It started out at 31 years old, I had my first heart attack, and that was on the 2nd of February, and on the 14th of February, I had the second heart attack and almost died from that one. And I was told that I had arteries then of an 80 to a 90-year-old. And they only gave me 3 to 5 years to live. But at least now, it'll be 23 years April. So, I beat their odds.

I think clearly, you were also dealt a genetic hand that wasn't favorable. The fact that you had already had issues with coronary disease and obviously, peripheral arterial disease, genetics plays a large component. But also cigarettes do play a big role and a lot of patients of mine smoke. I always joke with them that I've got a mallet in the office, "I'm gonna hit you over the head with a mallet to get you to stop smoking." But it's truly is an addiction. It's not easy as just saying, "Okay, come on, Mrs. Smith. Drop your cigarettes. Let's go! Right?

Yes, it is very much so. Very much so. Even today, everything I've been through, I don't know that it's...I can't, I don't have the willpower. I don't know it's the addiction because I am addicted to them so bad, but I can't lie them down and walk away. It's almost like I feel like I have to have that cigarette in order to be able to function.

What would you say to a patient that's in your shoes right now and hopefully listening that has given up? I mean, you've never given up despite an amputation or revised amputation. But once you had the amputation and ultimately got a prosthesis, what motivated you to say, "You know what? Okay, this really stinks, I lost my right leg, but I need to walk again." Take us through that process.

I don't give up, because I've always raised my children to believe that the good Lord won't put anything upon your shoulders you can't handle and He won't close one door without opening the other. And I raised my children believing that and instilling that in them. So, in return, I have to believe that myself. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. And I feel like that that's what it's done. It's made me fight that much more because I'm not willing to give up and you can't give up. You have to fight, find something to fight for.

You know, and my story there is, I lost my oldest son in a car accident 11 years ago, and I said, "If I could survive that, I could survive anything." All I wanted to do is raise my kids. When I was diagnosed with heart disease, all I wanted to do is raise my kids. I got to raise my kids. Then I went to reaching out that I wanted to be able to see my first grandchild. I now have 13 grandchildren. Then I went from that to, I would love to be able to see my oldest granddaughter graduate because she is the daughter of my son who got killed in the car accident. That's my goal now. I want to see her be able to graduate. And that's what I fight for every day is to see the kids and see them do the things that they do and to progress in life like they are. You know, they've got a long life ahead of them and that's what I try to tell them, you know, do the best you can, but know that the good Lord won't put anything upon your shoulders you can't handle. You're strong.

Wow. Obviously, you could have easily have thrown the towel in 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And then the five and a half years now that you and I have known each other, I mean, I always say to my patients, as long as you're willing to fight for the leg or your heart or your life, you know, I'm going to fight with you. And clearly, you are the epitome of that. If you could go back to before you had that amputation, knowing again, and hindsight's 20/20, and it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but would you say anything to your doctor at that time? Like, "Hey, is there anyone else that might be able to help me?"

Yes. Because I was told, you know, that there was nothing that they could do and my only option was to either live with the pain or to have it amputated, I just didn't know any different. I went with the option of amputating because of the pain being so excruciatingly bad. And I wish to God I would have found you or a doctor like you before I let them amputate. I just took their word for it. And that's one step in my life there that, yes, I feel like now I can look back on and say, I gave up and I shouldn't have gave up. I should have looked further, but I was in so much pain. I just wanted the pain to go away. And I thought that was my only means of the pain going away was to let them amputate it like they said.

And now, I know different from that because of what I've went through with my left leg. And like I said, you've done surgery on it two different times and saved it both times and I still have it. I still have the feeling in my leg, everything, I can stand on it, the whole nine yards. And I wished I could have found you or someone like you before I let them amputate and took just the word of them at that point in time in my life. Because I feel I would have still had my leg had I been able to find you or someone, you know, willing to work as hard as what you have for me. I feel I could have still had my leg.

I think part of the issue is...but you know, I think we as the medical field kind of failed you as well. And that's the purpose of podcasts or this podcast, awareness campaigns for peripheral arterial disease. And the goal of allowing us to allow you to tell your story is to motivate and provide hope for other patients who might be looking at a similar fate. Now, would you press your doctor to say, you know, if I told you, "Kim, you know, I can't, there's nothing more that I can do in your leg," what would you say to me?

Well, if it was you, I would say to you I know better because you've done it before. You've done it twice before for me. And I'm grateful for that. I tell you all the time, you're my hero because you have saved my leg on two different occasions, and I respect you so much for that. But yes, I would seek another opinion to make sure I understand all options available.

I appreciate that. I'm so happy that we can help you. I know that this is hard for you, but I think it hopefully is kind of cathartic to be able to share this story. How do you deal with the day-to-day battle of, you know, not only having the amputation, but on dialysis and trying to walk, and the stigmas, and is it just the motivation to kind of you have a goal? And at one point, it was just the 1 grandchild, and now you've got 13. Now, it's a point to see one of them graduate. I mean, is that how you kind of get your mind right?

That's how I get through my day. That's how I get through my day. You know, I sat here and I have the picture of my son sitting right where I see it every day and, you know, same way I just recently lost both of my parents within the last two years, and they were a big inspiration for me. You know, my dad, which was my step-dad, he fought for me to push, push, push, push. He instilled that in me and I, you know, I look at those pictures and I think, you know, they pushed me as well as my husband and my kids and my grandbabies, and that's what keeps me going. You know, I tell myself on a daily basis, you're not going to sit down and just give up and quit like they have told you to.

You know, a funny story, if my husband was here, he could tell you. He come home here. It's been probably a year and a half ago. He comes home and I was standing in my wheelchair on one leg. Don't do this. It's not safe to do, I know. But I was standing on my leg in my wheelchair changing curtains out in my living room. And he yelled at me for it. I said, "Somebody has got to do it. You know, you work, somebody's got to do it." And that's what keeps me going. I push myself no matter what it is, I try to do it. And I try not to ask for help. I try to do it on my own. And if I can't do it on my own, then I'm not above asking for help. And I want anybody that's listening to this to ask for help if they need help. But that's how I personally push myself every day is I do the things I push myself to do things that, you know, some people might not push themselves to do, but that's what keeps me going is pushing myself no matter what.

That's amazing. I'm assuming you know of the actor Matthew McConaughey. He just published a book, I think it's called "Greenlights," but basically, it's memoirs. And you know, his theory is life is full of green lights, yellow lights, and red lights. And, you know, I guess, ultimately, it is a red light. But there are a lot of green lights that we got to keep persevering towards and moving through. And you know, you seem to kind of be the epitome of that because, you know, you could have hit a red light after that first amputation and like I said, call it a day, but the light turned green, you keep going, you keep motivating yourself.

Don't give up. Keep fighting.

That's what I was going to say, if there's just kind of one thing that you could share with the listeners you know, with respect to what you went through to give them hope, it sounds like don't give up, keep fighting, keep driving through the green lights, huh?

Yes. Exactly. Because there's plenty of green lights out there. You just gotta fight through the red lights to get there. Yep. And sometimes a little humor helps. Just don't stand on a single leg while changing the curtains. Although, they did look like when the new curtain were up. Somebody,'s gotta do it, right?

Dr. Phillips: That's awesome. That is fantastic. That is fantastic. Well, Kim, I appreciate you telling your story. I hope that our listeners and readers find it beneficial and find it inspirational because I certainly did.

In preparation for this, I was looking at the first angiogram that I did on your leg, and I remembered how blocked that artery was and it took a fair amount of work, but we weren't moving mountains there. And it amazes me that, again, we got about 5 years out of it, and it was in July of 2020 where we had to do a little revision to it. But as long as you're still gonna fight, I'm gonna fight for you. And if we need to do some more work to it, we certainly can. But as it stands right now...

Kim: I'm gonna continue to fight as long as the good Lord lets me continue to fight. Yep.

Dr. Phillips: And I think it's important that we you know, focus on the present. Sometimes we dwell on the past and sometimes we dwell too much on the future, and I think it's a great opportunity to stay focused and look to the now as well as look into the future. So, Kim, we wish you the best of luck...

Kim: There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Dr. Phillips: You're exactly right. There's always a green light, I guess, right?

Kim: Yep. Yep.