Every time she ate, Mrs. Werkman felt terrible abdominal pain. And whenever she walked more than a few hundred feet, her legs would begin to hurt.
“My legs felt like they weighed 100 pounds apiece,” she said. “I couldn’t move them.”
Dr. Aulivola successfully treated both problems, which were caused by poor circulation.
Mrs. Werkman had a blockage in a mesenteric artery that supplies blood to the intestines. Consequently, the intestines were not receiving enough blood to metabolize food, causing pain when she ate. “I was hungry but I was afraid to eat,” she said. Mrs. Werkman, who is 5-foot-8, saw her weight drop to 99 pounds.
Dr. Aulivola used a catheter to deploy a stent in the blocked blood vessel. The stent is a metal mesh tube similar to stents used to treat heart patients. The stent spread the blockage open, allowing blood to flow freely to the intestines.
Mrs. Werkman noticed an immediate improvement, and gained 20 pounds in a month. “I could eat anything and feel no pain,” she said.
Once she gained weight, Mrs. Werkman was a better candidate for a major surgery to restore blood flow to her legs. The poor circulation was caused by a blockage in the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, which supplies blood to the legs. Such blockages are due to atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside arteries. Atherosclerosis is linked to smoking, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and hereditary factors.
Dr. Aulivola performed an aortobifemoral bypass. First she cut across the aorta at the point of the blockage. Then she sewed in a bypass graft – a Dacron tube in the shape of an upside-down Y. The top end of the graft was sewn into the aorta in the abdomen, and the two branches were sewn into arteries at the top of each leg. Once implanted, the graft allowed blood to bypass the aortic blockage and flow freely into the legs.
Now, Mrs. Werkman can walk as far as she likes, without pain or heaviness.
“I owe Dr. Aulivola everything,” Mrs. Werkman said. “I’m a brand new person. I can do things now that I haven’t been able to do in years. I can walk. I can eat. I have no pain.”
Dr. Aulivola is an Associate Professor in the Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Loyola’s vascular care specialists have an array of skills to treat a wide range of arterial disease, including narrowing and blockages of arteries and aneurysms (a bulging in the artery).