Tommy Phillips' home is nestled on several sprawling acres in Wingate, North Carolina. The wide-open quiet spaces give the 78-year-old a variety of venues to walk.
But gradually over the past year, that ceased.
"My leg hurt all the time," Phillips said. "I couldn't hardly walk on it. I didn't feel like eating and I lost about 30 pounds. I couldn't sleep at all either."
One health system told Phillips he might lose the leg to amputation, an option he found extreme. He next sought a cardiologist, whose treatment plan didn't help Phillips’ entire leg recover.
Phillips eventually landed with Dr. Rebecca Kelso, a Novant Health vascular surgeon in Charlotte.
In July, she performed a femoral endarterectomy, which opened the femoral artery in his right leg and removed the blockage. The blood vessel work is similar to blockages that occur in plumbing, Dr. Kelso said. The surgical repair allowed blood to fill Phillips' leg properly.
The day he returned from the hospital, he was walking again.
Phillips has a six-inch scar as souvenir, but that's not a problem now that his mobility has improved.
"I feel good about it, I really do," he said. "I can walk around and I'm no longer on pain medication."
Some 8.5 million people in the United States have peripheral arterial disease (PAD) similar to Phillips’ condition, including about 20 percent of people older than 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s primarily caused by the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis. PAD can occur in any blood vessel, but it is more common in the legs than the arms
Phillips and his wife Sadie (married 34 years) were quick to credit Kelso's surgical skills, treatment and thoroughness throughout the process.
"Dr. Kelso is fantastic, I'd recommend her to anyone," he said. Sadie Phillips said she's steered two acquaintances with leg issues toward Kelso.
Phillips tries to be diligent about following medical directions. He's eating properly, getting rest and exercising. In his case, surgery was the best option.
"Blockages that exist cannot be removed or reversed by any medication," Kelso said. "Prevention is the same for all the blood vessels — smoking cessation, cholesterol management and use of a statin, blood pressure control, cardiac diets and baby aspirin."
Phillips has dealt with a variety of health issues the past four years, beginning with a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2014.
"He literally died twice," Sadie Phillips said, referring to her husband's heart attacks. "We are so thankful for all the doctors, and people who work on the rescue squads. He has come a long way. It's a miracle."
Sadie Phillips' five siblings and their families live nearby, forming a valuable support group. There's also unwavering support from Austin Grove Baptist Church and pastor Leon Whitley, Phillips said.
Phillips smiled when recalling how much he's progressed from a year ago. He said he'd have a brief message for the doctor who quickly suggested amputation: "I've still got my leg."
At Novant Health, our heart specialists are trained to identify the warning signs, diagnose the problem and provide you with the expert care you need to get back to doing the things you love most.