Healthline: Saving limbs from Peripheral Artery Disease

Healthline: June 9
Dr. Craig Walker led a national trial on laser atherectomy (Source: WAFB)
Dr. Craig Walker led a national trial on laser atherectomy (Source: WAFB)

HOUMA, LA (WAFB) - Don't ever take your legs for granted. That's the message from a man who nearly lost one of his due to Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). The Houma doctor who treated him recently presented new research about groundbreaking procedures that help doctors save more limbs.

A simple walk down the hall is somewhat of a miracle for Frank Lagarde.

"There's no doubt I would have lost my right leg,” he said. “I mean I've thought about it many times."

After months of unexplained leg pain, Lagarde was diagnosed with PAD – a condition that affects over 20 million Americans. Plaque builds up inside the arteries, most commonly in the legs, but it can also occur in the kidneys, neck, or arms. The blockage prevents blood flow, and extreme cases can result in amputation and other complications like heart attack or stroke.

"Up to 20 percent, within two years of the diagnosis of PAD, have a major cardiovascular event, so this is a very important diagnosis to make, and it's a diagnosis that will become more common," said Dr. Craig Walker, founder and medical director of the Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

Walker recently led a year-long trial testing a new treatment for in-stent restenosis (ISR). That condition occurs when the section of a blocked artery that was opened with a stent becomes narrowed again. A balloon angioplasty can stretch the artery back open, but much of the plaque stays behind. Dr. Walker's randomized, controlled trial confirmed for the first time that a special laser used in combination with the balloon is more effective.


showed the Turbo-Tandem™ and Turbo Elite™, the only FDA-approved laser atherectomy devices, carry a 93 percent success rate over angioplasty alone, which carries an 82 percent success rate.

"The laser, as it touches the plaque, vaporizes it. Just like on Star Trek where it converts it into gas, it actually converts the plaque into a gas, which is then absorbed by the body," Walker explained. "This removes the clot, it removes the scar that's grown inside the stent, and it makes a channel."

The laser saved Lagarde's leg just in time for his daughter's wedding.

"When it came time for me to walk Mandy up the aisle, I put the walker aside, and I walked by myself," Lagarde said proudly. "And I was doing fine about it. Mandy started crying because I was ruining her makeup, which I'm sure cost me a fortune, but it was a wonderful moment."

PAD is treatable when caught early, but the disease often goes unrecognized, because the main symptom of leg cramps is regarded by many as an inevitable consequence of aging.

The following symptoms can be indicators of PAD:

  • open ulcer/wound on the bottom of your foot that does not heal
  • feeling of pins and needles on the bottom of the foot that goes away with walking
  • stabbing pain in the ball of your foot that goes away with walking
  • severe cramping (a Charlie horse) in your calf after walking or exercising that goes away immediately when stopping

PAD is caused by the same risk factors that lead to heart disease. Those at risk include anyone over the age of 50, especially African Americans; those who smoke or have smoked; and those who have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a personal or family history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke.

The Cardiovascular Institute of the South has 14 locations across south Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and Zachary.

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