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Technology improves treatment for patients with clots in legs

Published: Thursday, July 1 2010 3:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Advances in medical technology are helping patients with formerly debilitating artery clots literally get back on their feet.

Amanda Griffin Ralphs understood what it meant to be in physical pain, having lived with multiple sclerosis for 15 years. The 65-year-old grandmother from West Point learned to live with her discomfort to the extent that she could still work a full-time job.

Early this year, she began experiencing severe pain in both her legs, forcing her to miss days of work. At the time, she attributed the pain to her MS, but as a precaution, Griffin Ralphs visited her family doctor, who informed her the leg pain was not from MS and referred her to a specialist.

She eventually saw Dr. Gaurav Aggarwala, a cardiologist at Salt Lake Regional and Davis Regional hospitals, who diagnosed Griffin Ralphs with peripheral artery disease.

The disease — which affects about 12 million people nationwide — occurs mainly in arteries and leads to the kidneys, stomach, arms, legs and feet becoming narrow or clogged with fatty or plaque deposits that restrict blood flow. For patients like Griffin Ralphs, the condition can result in leg muscle pain while walking as well as gangrene and sores and may even lead to amputation.

Griffin Ralphs underwent a unique, minimally invasive laser procedure on both legs, known as excimer laser ablation, where pulsed laser energy pulverizes the plaque blockages, allowing them to dissolve into the bloodstream. She was back on her feet and at work just two days after the procedures and said she feels like a different person.

"(Prior to the procedure), there was pain in both legs. (Now) my legs are like brand new," Griffin Ralphs said.

Aggarwala said that until a few year ago, patients such as Griffin Ralphs could only have been treated with surgery. Today, technology has created a much less invasive option.

"(Before), they would cut your leg, create a bypass graft … and that had its own recovery time, risk of infection (and other issues)," he said. "Now, we can go in from one of the arteries in the leg … through the belly or hook around the belly, down the leg … all the way pretty much to the toes and find the blockage."

He said once the obstruction is found, there are many options for treatment, which could include shaving or sanding off the blockage.

e-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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