How I Saved My Leg From Amputation
An Ant Bite That Wouldn't Heal
My life drastically changed in 1998. I was bitten by an ant on the foot. When the wound had not healed after a few weeks, my doctor sent me to a podiatrist, who sent me to a vascular specialist. The vascular specialist told me it would heal, but that in 10 or 15 years I would probably be looking at an angioplasty with stents, whatever that meant.
In time it worsened, and my left leg became affected too. I began having leg cramps when walking. Within two years my foot and leg had atrophied and begun turning purple, and they were cold as ice. I had very severe night pain. I returned to the same group of specialists and eventually got that angioplasty, eight years prematurely.
The Threat of Gangrene and Leg Amputation
Unfortunately, they informed me, Iwas too far gone: My foot had become pre-gangrenous, and there was nothing they could do. They told me I should prepare for amputation. This was just not acceptable to me. I was sure there had to be something someone could do. I had two small children, a husband and a job. How was I going to tell my children Mommy was going to have to cut her leg off? They were going to be so scared. I suffered immense pain, with many, many sleepless nights praying for God to please help me and spare me till my children were older.
Eventually, I had to succumb to this dreadful condition called PAD (peripheral arterial disease). Unfortunately, not long after, I awoke one morning with extreme edema unlike any before. I phoned my doctor, who told me to admit myself to a hospital through the emergency room.
After I was admitted, the surgeon said, "I’ll see you in a couple days." He performed a bypass with an artificial graft from my inner ankle to my upper inner thigh, and cleaned and reconnected it to the femoral artery that had been 99 percent blocked. This procedure lasted eight years. When it became blocked again, the only resolution was to harvest a graft from my right leg and insert it into my left leg. That procedure lasted merely nine months. I had begun to develop gangrene for a second time.
Experimenting With Thai Stem-Cell Treatment
I began researching on the Internet again, looking for the best and latest medical breakthroughs. I found stem cells to be the only new thing out there and decided to make a trip to Thailand to try the new procedure. My husband, daughter and I flew there for stem cell injections in hopes this would buy me more time.
Within four weeks, the open drain wound from my second bypass surgery on my shin wasn’t healing even though I had cleaned and packed it twice daily for months. The wound did close up, but I could see from my three black-crusted, dying toes that I wasn’t benefitting from this procedure fast enough. I began avidly searching the Internet for another solution.
Stents to Reopen Blocked Arteries
I came upon an article about an organization started by a podiatrist and his wife to address PAD complications and amputation rates. They started debridement on the blackened toes and referred me to an interventional cardiologist, Yazan Khatib, MD, of First Coast Cardiovascular Institute in Jacksonville, Fla.
Dr. Khatib immediately sent me to a catheterization lab at a local hospital so a stent could be inserted. A grueling five to six hours later, he decided it wasn’t going to be successful without a minor surgical procedure. Within a week I had a bypass and got my first femoral artery stent. Dr. Khatib used a tool called a roto-blade to carve out plaque and insert the stents needed to keep my arteries open so blood could flow and heal the wounds on my dying toes.
After success with my legs, he checked on my heart only to find it in nearly the same condition. He cleaned my heart arteries, and stented the right coronary artery. Unfortunately, the left main artery was in worse condition, so I needed heart bypass surgery.
I flew to Loyola Hospital in Chicago and had a single bypass. I had feared infection by having my sternum cracked and my chest opened, so I opted for a minimally invasive da Vinci robotic procedure. Ten days after the procedure I returned home, healed up. That was six years ago. I am also now the proud owner of an FDA-approved, medicated stent in my right femoral artery – put in by Dr. Khatib – and have been procedure-free for 17 months.
A New 'Normal' Life
My life is back to normal, as normal as one could expect. I have three part-time jobs and co-own two businesses. I am full steam ahead!
I used to ask myself, “Why me?" I know now why.
I am a giver, and I believe I had to experience these ordeals to understand what other people are going through, and so that I could fully understand how to advocate on behalf of others with PAD. I do so every single day. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who has diabetes or PAD.
My objective is to let people who are suffering know there is help. The sooner they get help the better their chances are of not losing a leg – or a life. Amputation cuts life expectancy in half. The average patient with PAD who loses a limb loses their other limb within six months, and their life within one to five years. I want them to know it doesn’t have to be that way.
Carla Urffis a Florida native and co-owner of three business, including a full-service event rental company “Rustic Rentals Made In The South,” which she founded this past March after her son’s wedding. She’s the married mother of two and resides in Jacksonville with her family.
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