Patient Success Stories

Patient Profile: Interventional radiology - Walking without pain

Balloon angioplasty provides fast relief from peripheral vascular disease Bertha Henshaw could not walk 20 steps without sitting down to rest. The pain that had gradually developed in her left leg over the years became too much. For years, she had loved walking along Revere Beach near her home - sometimes three miles - but the pain forced her to rest on the sea wall and contemplate the distant ocean.

"I loved walking barefoot on the sand along the water's edge," said the 85-year-old mother of two. "But the pain was horrible. My left leg felt like someone with an air pump was filling it and it was ready to burst," she said. "I couldn't put any weight on that foot. I'd rest and then try to walk it out. But you can't walk out pain like that. You just can't."

MRI finds clogged leg artery, preventing potential limb loss

After monitoring the situation over time, Henshaw's doctor referred her to Wayne Wivell, MD, associate chief of radiology at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital. Dr.Wivell reviewed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to diagnose an 85-percent artery blockage in her leg. The blockage indicated peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a disease of the body's circulatory system that commonly leads to clogged leg arteries.

"Ms. Henshaw was experiencing excruciating pain, but we saw a clear solution with the MRI images," Dr.Wivell said. "If left untreated, PVD can lead to amputation."

Interventional radiology makes life-changing procedures less invasive

To unclog the artery in Henshaw's leg, Dr.Wivell performed a balloon angioplasty procedure. For the procedure, Dr. Wivell used fluoroscopy (x-ray imaging) to guide and inflate a balloon-like device to force open the blockage, restoring blood flow. Then, using the same catheter, Dr.Wivell inserted a wire-mesh stent (similar to those used to hold open clogged arteries in the heart) to keep the diseased artery permanently open. Although Henshaw had been suffering from her condition for a long time, she went home the morning after the minimally invasive procedure. She was able to walk without pain that same day.

"It's amazing how, one day, you can be in such terrible pain, and the next…it's gone," Henshaw said. Many interventional radiology procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis. In the Radiology Department's Special Procedures Suite at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, angiographic x-rays allow interventional radiologists to guide catheters through a patient's arteries to attack tumors, strengthen broken vertebrae and unclog arteries - while watching their progress on a computer screen.

Interventional radiology procedures also require less anesthesia than traditional surgery - which helps patients recover faster.

The joy of walking on the beach

Soon after her successful procedure, Henshaw accompanied her daughter on a trip to Aruba. It had been a long time since she had walked barefoot down a beach.

"It was like I never had any problem," she said. "I walked a mile or two. I picked up a few shells, but mostly I just walked. It was wonderful."

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