Never Losing Heart
A patient with peripheral artery disease seeks care for a decade before finding a solution at UF Health.
Patients should consider seeking a second opinion if they want clarification on a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment options. Jane Seaman experienced this firsthand. After years of no improvement, Seaman went looking for better options. It took several visits to doctors and a few opinions before she finally found the right diagnosis and solution.
“I couldn’t walk more than five minutes without terrible pain in my legs. I was losing hope, but I kept researching,” Seaman said.
A winding road
More than a decade ago, Seaman suffered a heart attack. At that time, the general public was only beginning to understand that men and women experience different symptoms when it comes to cardiac events. For men, the symptoms are more dramatic and harder to ignore — nausea; shortness of breath; tightness in the jaw, neck and back; and sudden, extreme pain in the chest. For women, the symptoms can be much subtler.
Seaman first experienced heartburn. Within a week, she had mild throbbing in her arm, followed by a feeling of weight on her chest that made breathing difficult. Physicians at a local Ormond Beach hospital concluded there was nothing to be concerned about and sent Seaman home. When symptoms reappeared, findings showed a blockage due to plaque buildup in her arteries and Seaman received a stent to improve blood flow. Subsequent monitoring by cardiologists led to a second stent, but Seaman’s instincts told her she needed additional care. She was later diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, or PAD. PAD is a condition that affects blood circulation in places outside of the heart, such as in the arms, legs or kidneys.
By 2017, Seaman’s condition was still deteriorating. She saw a vascular surgeon, and ultrasounds revealed blockages in her legs. She was told she needed bypass surgery and may need dialysis because the blockages were affecting her kidneys.
“I felt defeated,” Seaman said. “When I got home, I started to research options out of my local area.”
Never giving up
Seaman sought treatment in Jacksonville, where she was monitored by another hospital for almost a year. As the pain in her legs worsened, she pursued another opinion. Seaman met with Daniel Soffer, MD, an endovascular cardiologist at UF Health Jacksonville who specializes in PAD. Soffer and his team are experts in PAD and focus on individualized treatment plans while looking for minimally invasive procedures whenever possible.
“Most people assume that blockages in the veins and arteries are located around the chest,” Soffer said. “The truth is, the lower half of our body requires just as much blood flow, so blockages in those arteries are just as dangerous.”
Soffer explained to Seaman how the blocked arteries in her lower abdomen were restricting blood flow to her gluteal area and legs. Her symptoms were not as noticeable when she was still, but the simple act of walking requires blood to circulate through the body at a greater rate. The blockages restricted that flow, causing pain in her legs that increased the longer she walked.
“In Ms. Seaman’s case, a bypass was not necessary,” Soffer said. “Although it may be needed for some patients, a large number only need a minimally invasive approach, accompanied by lifestyle and medication changes.”
Finding a solution
With a better understanding of her diagnosis and confidence in her new provider, Seaman scheduled her procedure immediately. A total of five stents were placed in her legs, and the entire surgery took 45 minutes to complete in an outpatient setting.
Since the procedure, Seaman has made the changes needed to focus on living life to the fullest. She has adopted a healthier lifestyle and is now able to walk several miles a day. Although her journey has been long and filled with obstacles and setbacks, she is grateful to be in a good place with the support of her cardiovascular team.
“I feel so much better,” Seaman said. “Not only am I on the road to recovery, but I finally feel like I’m with the right doctor who fully understands my condition. It took a long time, but I’m so glad I listened to my gut and didn’t give up.”