Peripheral Artery Disease: Get a Leg Up

February 24, 2014

Theresa might not be walking on two legs, much less doing Pilates, if it weren’t for cardiovascular surgeon Keith Allen, M.D., and some innovative research involving stem cells at Saint Luke’s Hospital.

Theresa suffers from critical limb ischemia (CLI). It’s the most serious form of peripheral artery disease, which occurs when arteries in the limbs (typically legs) become narrowed by plaque buildup. Because the condition interferes with circulation, patients are at risk for gangrene and amputation.

Over the years, doctors had tried stents to restore blood flow to Theresa’s lower leg. But she never found relief until about five years ago when a friend suggested Saint Luke’s. Dr. Allen performed a long bypass from the groin to ankle, which provided good relief for a few years until Theresa developed more blockages.

Today, Theresa’s exploring a more permanent fix by participating in a research study available locally only at Saint Luke’s. During this study, doctors remove bone marrow from the patient’s lower hip to separate out the stem cells, which are then injected into the legs. Initial study results show this could generate new blood vessel growth.

At the start of the study in July 2012, Theresa's right foot was purple and numb and she couldn’t walk without pain. Today, she walks two miles daily on the treadmill and another two to three miles a day with her beloved dogs.

Theresa won’t find out for a few weeks longer whether she received stem cells or a placebo, but something is working for her. She’s feeling great with only occasional pain. She hits her Pilates mat four times a week. Best of all, she can travel to Hawaii with her husband to visit her son, daughter-in-law, and new granddaughter.

Learn more about our heart and vascular services.