In her own words: living with peripheral artery disease
As told to Elissa Sonnenberg, MSEd
June, 77, is a New York native who now lives in California. A widow with two grown children, June retired from her administrative job in the military in 1991; before that, she had traveled widely. In addition to her busy social life, June serves as president of her condominium association, but always makes time for daily walks to help minimize her peripheral artery disease (PAD).
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
The first time I knew something was wrong was in 1964, after I'd had a partial hysterectomy. I was working on my old sewing machine and my legs hurt. My doctor told me I had a narrow aorta, but he did absolutely nothing. I had trouble walking for a while, but I was young and got better.
Nothing more happened for several years. Then in 1980, I experienced more pain and was diagnosed with PAD.
In the last eight years it has really gotten bad. I have 10 stents in my body and I have a graft from my groin to my knee. Some days it's not bad, but sometimes it's extremely painful.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I didn’t know what it meant. I wasn't told any dietary restrictions or other advice. An acquaintance told me I should get out and walk, so I checked with my doctor.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I wasn't worried a bit, I thought I would live forever and I got out and walked. It wasn't until in 1990-91 that I started getting the stents put in. Then I had one put in that didn’t work—that’s when they put the graft in.
How is peripheral artery disease treated?
I try to walk a mile and a half every day. I do it even when I don't want to. I'm hoping to stay ahead of the game. I do everything I can. I take my garbage out, I clean house, but the thing that is going to keep my circulation going is walking.
I don't take any regular medications for PAD. I used to have high blood pressure, so I take low-dose aspirin and my regular blood pressure medications. My blood pressure is good now. The big thing is to keep the fat and weight down.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your illness?
I'm not neurotic about my diet. I use non-fat milk and non- trans fat margarine. I don't like fish and I do have a sweet tooth. I'm trying to be much better.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I started getting the newsletter from the Vascular Disease Foundation. It was extremely helpful to know that there are other people who have this disease. My cardiologist says that his office is full of them. Also, I often walk with a friend of mine who has a bad back and I find that supportive, or I walk with my cell phone and talk to friends. I want to live and I want to live with my leg attached. I'm very motivated.
Does your condition have any impact on your family?
It does have an impact on my social life and travel. I find traveling and sitting for a long time painful. I need a wheelchair to make plane connections. My last trip was a royal pain. I try to concentrate on being happy where I am and not push it too much.
What advice would you give to anyone living with this disease?
Go to a doctor who knows about PAD, and whatever you do, walk. That is the best exercise there is. Walking outside is better than on a treadmill for me. It’s much harder.
Watch your diet, and don't neglect the condition. Take it seriously.
It’s also wonderful to get in touch with the Vascular Disease Foundation and know that other people have the same thing. You can live with it.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
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