Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe
In 2010, the pain in Don Breeding’s leg was so severe he thought it would have to be amputated. He just completed his 35th half marathon. Don Breeding, 52, recalls the pain in his right leg: “When I would walk my calf would feel like it was going to blow up. I was prepared to have my leg amputated and get a prosthetic leg because it hurt so bad.” Visits to his usual doctors didn’t provide a diagnosis. Fortunately, others led him to see Eric Scott, M.D., a Vascular Surgeon at The Iowa Clinic.
After having several simple tests in October 2010, Breeding was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease (P.A.D.), a painful and often debilitating condition usually affecting the legs. Tests showed that the femoral artery to Breeding’s right leg was completely blocked and another artery in his left leg was 70 percent blocked. “When you develop P.A.D., your legs don’t receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand,” says Dr. Scott. “This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking, and is often a sign of more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, or atherosclerosis.
“This can reduce blood flow to your heart and brain as well as your legs, and is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke,” he says.
Restoring Blood Flow to Breeding’s Legs
Although P.A.D. is incurable, effective treatments are available. For Breeding’s right leg — the more severely affected — Scott performed an operation to remove the blockage entirely from the femoral artery. The artery was further repaired using a segment of vein from the leg, all through one incision in the groin.
Just months later, Scott performed a less invasive outpatient procedure (angioplasty and stenting) on Breeding’s left leg. This involved inserting a catheter with a “balloon” on the end of it, which — once inflated —widened the artery. Scott then inserted a small mesh tube (a stent) into the artery to help it remain open. “Don had complete normalization of blood flow in both legs,” Scott says.
Able to Walk Again, Breeding now Runs
“Don went from being a guy who could only walk 50 yards to competing in marathons,” Scott says, adding that Breeding is an example of what others can accomplish after being diagnosed with and treated for P.A.D. “While peripheral artery disease can really limit you, with the appropriate intervention, lifestyle changes, encouragement from others, and motivation, you can achieve so much more than you may think when you first come into our office,” he says.
Breeding says, “I told Dr. Scott ‘If you can get rid of this pain, I will quit smoking.’ He did, so I did.” Breeding also found the encouragement to resume an active lifestyle again from his wife Deanna, a runner. “My daughter Breanna also runs and has a goal of running (full) marathons in all 50 states. My wife and I decided we would set a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.”
Since beginning this quest in 2011, they have completed two full marathons and 35 half marathons — in 23 states. Breeding has 35 participation medals to prove it. “We display them in our living room above our TV. They span eight feet,” he says. But Breeding won’t tell you that running with P.A.D. is easy. “The first three miles (of a run) are the toughest; I do feel pain. But after mile three, the fun kicks in. “We all run for our own reasons,” he continues. “For me, to lose being able to walk to now being able to run … I’m not taking that for granted. I run because I can.”
If you think you may have peripheral artery disease, talk with your Primary Care physician or call The Iowa Clinic Vascular Surgery office at 515-875-9090.