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Published September 16, 2012, 11:30 PM

North Dakota woman lucky to keep her leg

Case shows dangers of ignoring artery disease
FARGO – Regina Coleman had long coped with leg pain that eventually forced her to use a scooter to get around. She accepted it as a normal aspect of growing old.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – Regina Coleman had long coped with leg pain that eventually forced her to use a scooter to get around. She accepted it as a normal aspect of growing old.

Then, one day she noticed that her left leg was turning white and had gone numb and felt cold.

Nothing normal about that. So she went to the emergency room in Oakes, where doctors realized her condition – peripheral vascular disease – was serious and required a specialist.

Coleman, 74, was flown by helicopter ambulance on May 29 to Essentia Health in Fargo. Doctors determined she had a blockage in the main artery in her abdomen, which supplied blood to her pelvis and legs.

Her condition was so serious – her skin now was turning black – that doctors thought it might be necessary to amputate at least her left leg.

There was no pulse in either leg.

Dr. Yassar Almanaseer, an interventional cardiologist, was able to perform a minimally invasive procedure to remove the blockage, restoring blood flow to Coleman’s legs.

“She was headed for amputation,” he says.

Luckily, no amputation was necessary – and now Coleman walks normally.

Her story serves as a reminder that people shouldn’t ignore the warning signs of peripheral vascular disease, Almanaseer says.

“Don’t ignore pain in the legs or any change in the quality of life,” he says.

Coleman’s pain became acute in her calves and the backs of her thighs, so it couldn’t be confused with joint pain from arthritis.

Chronic muscle pain in the legs is not normal, Almanaseer says, adding, “It’s not aging.”

A good clinical screening tool is available to diagnose peripheral vascular disease.

In fact, Coleman had been diagnosed with the condition four years ago. But over time she had become so accustomed to the chronic leg pain that she didn’t associate it with her diseased arteries.

Those at high risk for peripheral vascular disease include smokers, diabetics, and those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, conditions often stemming from obesity.

Patients with blockages in their legs also have a greater chance of having blockages elsewhere, increasing their risk of heart attack and stroke.

It’s important to know the risks. Sometimes patients have no symptoms, such as leg pain, Almanaseer says. Coleman’s case, he adds, was “extreme.”

“Those could kill people easily,” he says.

Through medication and lifestyle changes, including diet, susceptible people can prevent blockages.

Life has returned to normal for Coleman. She was unaware at the time, before it was known that the intervention had worked, that she was at risk of losing one or both legs.

“I feel lucky. all right,” Coleman says. Retired from farm work, she putters around in the garden of her farm home seven miles east of Oakes, or about 90 miles south of Jamestown.

“Now I walk real good,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522