“I didn’t wear shorts for 15 years, even during the hottest summers. Now I can. I only wish I had gotten rid of my varicose veins sooner.” - Shannon Wolfe
Shanon Wolfe couldn’t breathe.
That was two years ago, when the 34-year-old Gardner, Kansas, woman was at her gym training for her first 15K trail run. As she started a bear crawl—walking with hands and feet on the ground while keeping her waist above her head—she realized she couldn’t catch her breath.
“People in their 60s were crawling next to me without any problems,” recalled Shanon, “and I felt like I was going to faint.”
This was unusual, not to mention unsettling, for the otherwise healthy cardio kickboxer. Her trainer didn’t want to take any chances and told Shanon to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Saint Luke’s cardiologist Ibrahim Saeed, MD, performed a series of tests but couldn’t find anything wrong with Shanon’s heart. He did, however, notice varicose veins that crisscrossed her ankles and calves like bumpy purple hash marks. He asked a sonographer to perform an ultrasound on Shanon’s legs.
In normal circulation, veins return the blood to the heart. Venous disease occurs when the one-way valves in the veins no longer perform or function properly.
“The tech squeezed my leg, and we watched the monitor,” Shanon said. “Sure enough, the valves didn’t close right.”
Going for the knockout
For years, Shanon had hid her legs under pants. The spider veins that first appeared when she was still a teenager made her self-conscious and embarrassed. In time, they spread and bulged, but her varicose vein troubles were more than cosmetic. Although her legs didn’t hurt at the end of the day, more and more often they felt heavy and tired. It began interfering with her kickboxing.
Venous disease, which causes varicose veins, affects about 40 percent of adults. While common in women, men are not immune. Your risk of developing varicose veins increases as you age. If the blood in your veins does not flow properly, it can interfere with the way your skin exchanges oxygen, nutrients and waste products with your blood.
Dr. Saeed recommended the Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, where cardiologists treated venous diseases with minimally invasive therapies. Jason Lindsey, MD, decided Shanon needed a combination of treatments. With endovenous laser therapy, Dr. Lindsey scheduled two appointments—one for each leg. He created a small opening in the skin and used ultrasound to position a fiber into the abnormal vein. The laser delivered heat to shrink and seal the vein closed. Blood flow automatically rerouted to Shanon’s other veins.
Dr. Lindsey opted for sclerotherapy treatment to address Shanon’s many surface veins. Completed over several appointments, a solution was injected into the veins, which caused the vein walls to adhere together. Compression stockings ensured the walls would remain closed and helped with healing.
“Everyone was so friendly and positive, and they really knew what they were doing,” said Shanon. “Right away I felt comfortable.”
The treatments lasted less than one hour each, with fast recovery times. Shanon could go about normal activities the same day. Her first appointment was March 31, 2011. The next time Shanon hit the gym, she breezed through the bear crawl with strong legs. Since treating her veins, Shanon completed a 15K trail run and two 25K trail runs. She trains in kickboxing six to seven hours a week and has no need for a cardiologist. But the best part for her?
“I didn’t wear shorts for 15 years, even during the hottest summers. Now I can,” she said. “I only wish I had gotten rid of my varicose veins sooner.”