Walking Without Pain Gives Boca Raton Woman Her Life Back

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

A typical day for 86-year-old Mona Schwartz includes time at the pool with friends or a bus ride to do some shopping. She takes computer classes, is in a book club and plays mahjong. That all stopped when a wound on her left foot wouldn’t heal, and the pain made it nearly impossible to walk.

Ms. Schwartz had critical limb ischemia, or CLI, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by peripheral artery disease. It occurs when cholesterol deposits build up in the blood vessels, resulting in the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. More than 2 million U.S. adults suffer from CLI, which can require amputation – a fate that a doctor near her home in Boca Raton told her was her only option.

After coming home from that doctor’s visit in tears, Ms. Schwartz found her way to Alex Powell, M.D., an interventional radiologist with Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “He said to me, ‘I guarantee you will not lose your foot.’ I immediately had great hopes. I had a lot of faith in Dr. Powell. I just trusted him.”

(Watch video: Hear from patient Mona Schwartz and Alex Powell, M.D., an interventional radiologist with Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Video by Alcyene de Almeida Rodriguez.)

He was good to his word.

“Mrs. Schwartz was at extremely high risk for an amputation,” Dr. Powell says. “This was quite a complex case.”

Dr. Powell performed an imaging study called an angiogram to map the blood flow to her foot and then used minimally invasive techniques to open the blood vessel again. Tiny metal stents were inserted as a scaffold to help keep the vessel open.

“Ultimately, we were able to restore the blood flow to the foot,” he said. The Institute has pioneered many of the less invasive techniques used today to treat CLI and other cardiovascular system problems and participates in and leads a variety of clinical trials.

Are you at risk?

September is National Vascular Disease Awareness Month and while there is growing awareness of this health problem that has been labeled an epidemic by physicians, knowing the risk factors could help you lower your chance of getting CLI.

Risk factors include aging, smoking, diabetes, being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle. High blood pressure and high cholesterol also contribute to the condition, as does chronic kidney disease. In Ms. Schwartz’s case, diabetes was a major factor.

Watching her daughter, a double amputee, struggle, Ms. Schwartz felt she did not have the stamina or will to fight if she faced a similar situation. “If I had to go through the ordeal she did, well, I don’t think I’d be able to. That’s just the truth,” says the grandmother to two boys.

Like many people with CLI, she had severe pain in her toe and foot and an infection that wouldn’t heal. Pain typically worsens at night or during rest. Other symptoms include numbness in the foot, diminished pulse in the legs or feet, thickened toenails, and dry or shiny skin of the legs or feet.

“Ms. Schwartz had really intractable pain that was worse at night and that’s a hallmark of critical limb ischemia,” Dr. Powell explains.

Other health problems related to CLI

For the best chance of saving a limb – and increasing life expectancy – early detection is crucial. According to a study published in the journal Circulation, 40 percent of people diagnosed with CLI go on to have an amputation within the first year. Half of all patients diagnosed die within five years.

Dr. Powell stresses that because CLI is a cardiovascular problem, patients are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke and should be evaluated for vascular disease throughout their body.

Ms. Schwartz is doing well following her procedure. “She recently went up to New York, continues to walk on her leg, and it’s a fantastic outcome,” he says.

“I am feeling absolutely fine. I have no pain,” says Ms. Schwartz, who is again enjoying what brings her joy – shopping. “I can walk. I feel very healthy. I’m ready to go.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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