Reclaiming My Legs A Triumph Over Peripheral Arterial Disease

Reclaiming My Life Overcoming Peripheral Arterial Disease

Photo Credit: Yuri Arcurs / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Yuri Arcurs / Getty Images

Rodney McKinley discovered he had peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in 2011 when his walks turned into fiery agony. “When I laid down in bed to catch some Z’s, it felt like someone had a blowtorch under my poor toes,” he recalls. McKinley underwent bypass surgery in his groin with a whopping 32 staples and had two more bypasses in his lower legs. Things improved for a year, but the pain shamelessly found its way back. “I consumed more painkillers than I did actual food,” says the 64-year-old from Johnson City, TN. He tried countless treatments, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which fills your blood with oxygen under pressure to promote wound healing. Unfortunately, nothing worked, and his doctor eventually suggested amputation. Ouch!

Unexpected Support

McKinley chose to have one of his legs amputated and spent four agonizing weeks in the hospital and rehab. “When I finally returned home, I decided to stay positive and forge ahead with my life,” he shares. However, it took him an entire month to recover enough to be fitted with a prosthetic leg. Sadly, by then, his leg had become so misshapen that it couldn’t straighten properly, leaving him unable to wear his new prosthetic. It felt like he was down on his luck… until an unexpected miracle occurred.

Amidst this challenging time, McKinley received a divine intervention from his ex-wife, who journeyed all the way from England for a surprise visit and ended up staying. She selflessly accompanied him to physical therapy three times a week until he regained his mobility. Finally, in January 2020, almost 9 years after his PAD diagnosis, McKinley took his first unassisted steps without a wheelchair or walker, with his ex-wife’s support serving as the guiding light. “She played a vital role in helping me reclaim my ability to walk,” he declares. Now, he can strut his stuff anywhere, sometimes even without a cane. Talk about a remarkable comeback!

Unreal Therapy

Meet Kay Smith, a nurse practitioner residing in the beautiful west coast of Scotland. As part of her work, she traveled all over the United Kingdom to educate medical professionals on wound care. Unfortunately, excruciating thigh cramps began to plague her, making it impossible to drive. Soon, even walking became a daunting task. After multiple doctor visits and tests, Smith discovered that she had PAD and found herself confined to a wheelchair at the young age of 54. Adding insult to injury, her doctors canceled an angioplasty procedure to restore blood flow due to a blockage in her aorta, the primary artery responsible for pumping blood from the heart to the rest of the body. To top it off, Smith was allergic to painkillers. Yippee.

Over the next few months, Smith found herself sinking into a deep, dark place. “What nobody talks about are the mental health challenges: anxiety, depression, and the isolation that comes with illness,” she reveals. As if things couldn’t get worse, the world was hit by the global pandemic. But then, a glimmer of hope appeared, thanks to some high-tech wizardry.

Smith stumbled upon a doctor who prescribed virtual reality (VR) as a treatment for chronic pain. This mind-bending technology plunges you into a computer-generated, 3D, immersive environment where you can explore and partake in activities using fancy headsets and gloves that make you feel like a superhero. “He provided me with the necessary equipment, and within a few hours, I was pain-free for the first time in years,” Smith rejoices. Feeling inspired, she dove headfirst into a virtual scuba diving adventure, which resonated with her because she used to be an avid scuba diver in the real world. This incredible experience became a source of strength, reminding her that she was still the same person she had always been. In a way, VR gave her back herself. Nowadays, Smith incorporates VR into her daily routine to help her manage pain.

But that’s not the end of her uplifting story. Smith also sought solace in an understanding online support network called The Way to My Heart, simply because she’s a boss. She now shares her expertise on wound care with others while simultaneously regaining her mental fortitude. “With their help, I developed a resilient mindset and decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and start fighting,” she declares. A year and a half later, Smith underwent an endovascular treatment to clear her blockages. Five weeks later, she triumphantly danced at a wedding with her husband, achieving a whopping 9,000 steps per day. There is life after PAD, my friends. It may involve adapting to a new way of living, but it’s all about embracing the journey.

Joy in Not Winning

Let me introduce you to Kevin Morgan, an impressive 78-year-old chap and a trained veterinary pathologist who continues to participate in Ironman races. However, since 2010, he competes with the added challenge of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) stent graft, which restricts blood flow to his legs during training. Talk about a marathon with obstacles!

Morgan first noticed symptoms of PAD around 2015 when his feet would painfully go numb during marathons. Initially, he brushed it off, assuming it was due to inadequate training. “It never occurred to me that it might be linked to PAD,” he admits. It wasn’t until he underwent his annual stent examination, which included an ankle brachial index test comparing blood pressure in the arms and legs, that his doctor diagnosed him with PAD.

The stent put some serious limitations on his athletic endeavors, Morgan acknowledges. There’s always the looming risk of dislodging the stent while running. Therefore, he had to get creative with his training routine. He now rides a custom-designed bike that minimizes hip flexion, switched the rowing machine for an elliptical, and bid farewell to his beloved flip turns in the pool. As Morgan says, “The PAD and AAA have forced me to empathize with people facing similar challenges.” In a twist of fate, he discovered that the secret to navigating these obstacles lies in shifting one’s perspective. Instead of focusing on oneself, Morgan learned to make it about helping others.

To fuel his inner peace and enlightenment, Morgan turned to meditation and became an avid reader. He even authored numerous self-help books, including one titled “How to Train for Aging.” This wise man discovered pure happiness in embracing life’s slower pace. “A man must be aware of his limitations and learn to appreciate what he does have, rather than mourning what has been lost due to the inevitable health changes that come with the passing years,” he emphasizes. And let’s not forget the valuable life lesson he shared with us all: “You meet the nicest people at the back of the pack.” Truer words have never been spoken.

So there you have it! Three remarkable individuals who refuse to let peripheral arterial disease bring them down. They prove that where there’s a will, there’s always a way. Their journeys have been filled with unexpected support, virtual realities, and joy in not winning. How about you? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below! Let’s keep spreading positivity and resilience together.