Rodney McKinley found out he had peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in 2011, when she solved frequent hikes in scorching ache. “When I would have gone to bed to sleep, it felt like someone had a bladder flame under my toes, ”he says.
McKinley had bypass surgery on his groin – with 32 staples – and two more diversions in both lower legs. His pain eased for a year. But then it came back.
“I ate more painkillers than I ate food,” says McKinley, 64, of Johnson City, TN. He has tried many treatments, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which use pressure to fill you blood with oxygen to help heal wounds.
When nothing helped, “my doctor finally said all he could do was amputation. ”
McKinley’s one leg was amputated and was in the hospital and in rehabilitation for 4 weeks. “I came home and tried to stay positive and get on with my life,” he says.
It took him a month to recover enough to be equipped with a prosthetic leg. But by that time, his leg was contracting and did not want to be straight enough for him to wear his prosthesis.
During this difficult time, McKinley found support “from heaven.” His ex-wife traveled from England for a surprise visit, and stayed. She took McKinley to physical therapy three times a week until he got back on his feet. In January 2020, McKinley managed to take his first steps without his wheelchair or a walker – almost 9 years after his PAD diagnosis.
“She was so instrumental in it that I could walk again,” he says. Now he can walk anywhere, sometimes even without his cane.
“The most important thing that keeps me going is to try to stay positive.”
Kay Smith, a nurse living in the west of Scotland, has traveled across the UK to train medical specialists in wound care. Remarkable thigh cramps prevents her from driving. Soon after, even walking became too painful. After a flurry of doctors and tests, Smith found out she had PAD and found herself in a wheelchair at age 54. Her doctors have a angioplasty to restore her blood flow when they found a blockage in her aorta, the principal artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In addition, Smith was allergic to painkillers.
“Over the next few months, I was in a very dark place,” she says. “Something that no one discusses is the mental health issues: anxiety and depression and isolation of disease. ” Then COVID-19 struck.
Then, thanks to high technology, Smith discovered a way to bend her desperate reality.
She got a doctor who prescribes virtual reality (VR) for chronic pain. This technology creates a computer-generated, 3D, immersive environment that allows you to explore and even participate in activities by using headsets and sometimes special gloves to help complete the illusion.
“He provided the equipment, and within hours I was pain-free for the first time in years,” Smith says. “I was an avid scuba diver and dived all over the world. So, when I was immersed in my VR world, I went scuba diving. It gave me strength in that it reminded me that I was still me. In a sense, it actually gave me back I. ”
She still uses VR daily to help handle pain.
Smith next used a large online PAD support network called The Way to My Heart. She began sharing her expertise on wound care. “At the same time, the care team helped me get a strength mentality. I decided not to feel sorry for myself and started fighting, ”she says.
A year and a half later, she had endovascular treatment to clear her blockages. Five weeks later, she was completely upright again, dancing with her husband at a wedding and clocking about 9,000 feet a day.
“There can be life with PAD,” Smith says. “But it’s a new and adapted lifestyle.”
Joy of not winning
Kevin Morgan is a trained veterinary pathologist who still participates in Ironman races at the age of 78. But since 2010 he has been doing them with a abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) stent transplant, which limits the amount of blood that reaches his legs when he exercises.
The Carrboro, NC, resident’s PAD symptoms first appeared in 2015. “I noticed problems with myself feet become numb in marathons, ”says Morgan. At first he thought the soreness and lack of circulation meant he was not exercising enough. “I never paired it with PAD.”
The stent has set “absolute limits” on what he can do, Morgan says. There is always the danger that run was able to loosen the stent, so he adjusted his training. He rides a custom bike designed to reduce flexion in his hips. He swapped the rowing machine for an elliptical. He cut flip-flops in the pool.
“The PAD and AAA gave me more empathy for people in the same boat,” Morgan says. With a shift in thinking, “You can always turn it around to make it a good thing. I think the real trick is not to make it about you, but about other people.”
Morgan also practices meditation and read a lot. He has also written many self-help books, including How to train for aging.
He also found joy in taking it slow. “A man needs to know his limitations. So you learn to appreciate what you do gain, not what you have lost as a result of the inevitable health changes of aging.” On top of that, he adds, “You meet the nicest people in the back of the suit.”