When a physician told Christopher Kent “prostheses are actually really good these days,” he was unimpressed.
He didn’t want a prosthetic leg, he wanted to keep his own.
The four ulcers on his left foot had become so painful that the 67-year-old could no longer stand at his woodworking bench. He couldn’t have safely operated machinery anyway, his wife Linda points out, given the medication he was taking to ease the pain.
Finally a diabetic specialist recognized Christopher’s non-healing ulcers as a symptom of peripheral arterial disease, a narrowing of the arteries in his leg caused by his diabetes. He sent Christopher to Sunnybrook, where vascular surgeons Dr. Andrew Dueck and Dr. Giuseppe Papia were gaining nationwide attention for saving patients’ legs – and lives – with image-guided angioplasties. This method of enlarging a narrowed artery using a balloon is typically used for heart patients but our vascular surgeons are using it to save legs.
“So many diabetic patients have painful sores on their feet that won’t heal – and it’s not being recognized as a vascular problem that we can fix,” Dr. Papia says. “Without treatment, half these patients won’t survive two years.”
In Christopher’s case, his disease had progressed so far that when Dr. Papia attempted angioplasty, the blockage was too solid to break through. Christopher had developed gangrene and the threat of amputation loomed.
But Dr. Papia refused to give up. He scheduled an urgent surgical appointment to try a different tactic to save Christopher’s leg. It might not work, Christopher was told, but there was hope. With the pain in his foot close to unbearable, he signed the form authorizing amputation in the event surgery was unsuccessful.
“Dr. Papia started at midnight,” Christopher recalls. “At 5 o’clock in the morning, I woke up and saw I had two feet,” he says with a big smile.
Dr. Papia had performed bypass surgery, using a vein from the same leg to bypass the artery down to Christopher’s foot. “But bypass surgery is a temporary fix,” Dr. Papia explains. “The arteries continue to harden, the disease process continues. To maintain his bypass and prevent an amputation, I later performed angioplasty on the very tiny arteries in Christopher’s leg.
“For most patients, angioplasty works the first time. With Christopher, we had to try something different. At Sunnybrook, we do everything we can to save people’s lives and limbs.”
Eighteen months later, Christopher is almost as good as new. He visits Dr. Papia every three months and gets a Doppler ultrasound to test his blood flow.
Now, Christopher is building a guitar in his workshop, chasing after his toddler grandson – and, Linda says with a laugh, “he’s back to taking the garbage out. Thank you, Dr. Papia!”
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