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Patient Stories

Treating Peripheral Vascular Disease
By Healthy Life 2008 Winter

After being treated for two heart attacks and a stroke, 57-year-old Stephen Sawtell of Nahant, knew his troubles were back when he felt a tingling sensation down his left arm. “I know the major warning signs,” said Sawtell. “And I knew my situation wasn’t good.”

After being rushed to the emergency department at NSMC Salem Hospital, doctors went right to work exploring the vessels in Sawtell’s heart for a potential problem. Because of his additional symptoms of leg pain while walking, David Rabin, M.D., a NSMC cardiologist, was concerned that he might have peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a condition characterized by narrowing of the arteries, which reduces blood flow to the extremities. An angiogram revealed that one of the arteries in Sawtell’s leg had a 75 percent blockage.

“I love to walk on the beach, but after a short distance I was getting a burning sensation up and down my leg. It was so painful I would have to sit down, and eventually I started avoiding activities that I knew would make my leg hurt,” said Sawtell. Dr. Rabin immediately made an appointment for Sawtell to see David Slovut, M.D., Ph.D., a specialist at the NSMC Vascular Center, the only comprehensive, collaborative vascular service on the North Shore that combines a team of vascular surgeons, interventional radiologists and interventional cardiologists to treat patients with vascular disease. Dr. Slovut placed a small mesh tube called a stent, inside Sawtell’s partially blocked artery, restoring blood flow once again.

“It was amazing,” said Sawtell. “I got out of bed after that procedure and I could feel a difference. I could walk again without that burning sensation. I couldn’t wait to get back to the beach.” The lifestyle changes that come along with a condition like PVD haven’t been easy for Sawtell, but he realizes getting healthy takes time. “I’ve stopped smoking and my eating habits are slowly getting better. Now I’m starting to test the waters and see what it feels like to have some regular exercise again. For the first time in years I’m finally feeling 100 percent.”

Risk Factors that can put a person at higher risk for developing PVD:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart or vascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Being over 50 years old