Palmetto Health is one of only three health care systems in United States to pilot a feasibility study performing the procedure
Wilhelmina H. Reed never imagined the path a “little blister” on her left foot would lead her on – nor did she suspect it could cost her a limb.
It was earlier last year in March when the 72-year-old Department of Corrections worker began experiencing pain in her left foot, an irritation she initially chalked up to everyday wear and tear.
“I couldn’t wear closed-in shoes. I was just hopping,” she explained. “I just thought it was a little blister.”
Reed recalls the whirlwind of doctors’ appointments that would characterize her life in the weeks to follow as the pain persisted and eventually intensified. Among those were visits to her primary care physician, a podiatrist, the emergency room, a cardiologist and wound care specialists – resulting in various diagnoses, treatment plans and several weeks of antibiotics.
Preliminary testing revealed some blood flow complications, and after being referred to Daniel Clair, M.D., chair of the Palmetto Health-USC Department of Surgery and a surgeon at Carolina Cardiac Associates, Reed eventually was diagnosed with Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI).
CLI – which affects nearly 12 percent of adults nationally - is severe obstruction of the arteries that greatly reduces blood flow to the hands, feet and legs and causes severe pain, skin ulcers or sores. Left untreated, the condition can lead to amputation.
Reed faced that frightening possibility head-on during a consultation with Clair. “He said, ‘What we are trying to do is save your foot,’ and when he said that, I knew he was dealing with amputation,” Reed said.
Reed found herself in very good hands. Clair is one of a handful of physicians chosen to pilot a United States feasibility study of the LimFlow pDVA system and offered Reed the opportunity to be part of the study.
LimFlow is designed to restore blood flow to the ischemic foot when all CLI treatment options have been exhausted. The system uses ultrasound-guided catheters and stents to bypass diseased arteries and divert blood into the vein between the knee and the ankle to restore blood flow in the ischemic foot. LimFlow, based in France, announced the enrollment of the first patient in the United States feasibility study in July. Palmetto Health is one of three health care systems in the country now performing the procedure, and Reed became one of the first 10 patients in the country to undergo it in late September.
Clair praised the effectiveness of the procedure and commended the Palmetto Health team for its role in advancing the study. "Our clinicians are used to seeing high-profile patients, or patients that have really complicated situations," he said. "We pride ourselves in being the best in the world."
While understandably concerned about her prognosis for success, Reed said she quickly placed her trust in Clair and his medical team. While she was never offered “promises,” she said she was struck not only by his medical expertise but also by his “calm and caring” demeanor.
“I went in and prayed about it, and people prayed for me. And I was just confident that this was going to be it,” she said. “It’s something when you take all your cares and give them to somebody else.”
Reed spent three nights in the hospital following the procedure, and recent follow-up visits have confirmed its success. She said her pain is nearly gone and she can walk with minimal discomfort – a little slower, perhaps, but mainly as a precaution. The half-inch scar on her left ankle is the only visible sign of her ordeal.
Clair said he was very pleased with Reed’s outcome, given the early stage of the study and voiced optimism regarding her prognosis. That optimism was validated during one of Reed’s initial follow-up appointments.
Asked about her pain during one of those visits, Reed replied, “What pain? I don’t have any pain.”
“I’m getting around now,” she said, noting she hopes she can eventually return to work. “I just hate that I can’t wear all of my high heel shoes.”
Even so, it’s a wardrobe change she’s happy to embrace.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do if they had to amputate,” she said. “I hope that other people can experience the same thing that I did with the good results from the surgery. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I would recommend this to anyone.”
For appointments with Daniel Clair, M.D., visit phuscmg.org or call 803-765-0871.