Getting the morning paper might not seem like a big deal, but it is to 86-year-old Helen Scheier. Until recently, she could barely walk because of the pain in her left foot.
"I didn't have any feeling in my foot at all except pain," Helen Scheier says.
The artery that was supposed to deliver blood to her foot was blocked.
"These blockages can cause pain when you walk or sometimes can lead to lack of circulation that's bad enough you can need amputations," says Richard F. Neville, M.D.,
Chief of Vascular Surgery at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C.
Scheier faced losing her foot until doctors told her about a new procedure. Instead of bypassing the blocked artery with a vein from her other leg, they used an artificial artery.
"It's like a blocked pipe. The plumber doesn't have to go in and replace the pipes. Just have to get a new pipe around the blockage," Dr. Neville says.
Doctors sew the artificial artery right onto an open artery in the leg. It's essentially a bypass procedure. Blood re-routes and travels through the new artery to get to the patient's lower leg.
"What we're hoping is this will allow us to save legs in situations where we couldn't before," Dr. Neville says.
Another benefit -- the artificial artery contains a blood thinner medicine that prevents clots from forming.
"That's the critical time period when we don't want the clotting to occur to get the graft to function right," Dr. Neville says.
This surgery is easier than standard methods because it requires smaller incisions. So far, Georgetown doctors have seen an 80 percent success rate. Some patients can walk within a week. It's taken Scheier longer than that, but two months later, she's painting and sewing again.
"There's no sense in living if you can't do the things you enjoy," Scheier says.
And now she can.
Doctors say this surgery is an ideal option for people who don't have an available vein to reroute blood, either because it's been used for something like heart surgery or because they have varicose veins.
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