After surgery for artery disease, she felt ‘immediate relief’

photo by: Contributed

Dawne Morris had surgery to clear blockages in her arteries that were causing leg pain.

For over 22 years, Dawne Morris was always on her feet at work, serving and preparing lunch for the students of Basehor-Linwood Middle School. So when she began experiencing pain in her legs, she thought it was her age and years of standing on concrete catching up to her.

“It felt like someone was squeezing my calves with a vice grip,” Morris said. “The pain would get so intense that I would wake up in the middle of the night with cramps and nothing could relieve the pain.”

Determined to continue enjoying her retirement, Morris refused to let the pain stop her from doing what she loved, including traveling. She made adjustments to how she did daily activities by taking breaks as often as possible.

But “the pain only got worse,” she said. “When we went to Germany last year, I couldn’t walk the hills of the village. That’s when I said to myself, ‘something isn’t right.'”

A few months after her trip to Germany, she went to New York to visit her family. She began talking with her sister-in-law about the location and type of pain she was experiencing. Having experienced similar pain, her sister-in-law told Morris that she may have issues with her veins.

Once she returned home, Morris talked with her primary care provider and was given a referral to see a vein specialist.

Morris thought that she would get answers and relief at the vein specialist. However, when the provider saw her, he said that it was not an issue with her veins.

“He showed me how when he pressed down on my ankle, instead of returning to its normal color, it stayed white before slowly regaining color,” Morris said.

She was then referred to Dr. Axel Thors, a surgeon from the University of Kansas Health System who works with Lawrence Vascular Surgery. He explained that her arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to different parts of the body, were unable to function properly due to a buildup of plaque.

“She presented to me with peripheral artery disease, or PAD,” Thors said. “The pain in her calf was the result of it not being able to receive the blood flow. It also was affecting her ability to heal wounds and cuts because the blood was unable to bring nutrition to the area.”

When there is a blockage in an artery, as in PAD, it can cause pain in the legs, swelling and blood clotting. In the advanced stages of the disease, wounds in the affected area stop healing, which can lead to gangrene and might even require amputations.

While there is no cure for PAD, lifestyle changes and surgery can eliminate symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life.

“In Dawne’s case, although it was in the advanced stage, we were able to catch it and perform surgery to open the arteries back up,” Thors said. “Her left leg artery was 80% clogged, while her right leg was only 50%.”

The surgery to break up the plaque was minimally invasive, and Thors also placed stents into Morris’ pelvic arteries to reduce the risk of a blockage developing again.

“The surgery went well,” Morris said. “I was able to walk out of the hospital on the same day of my operation, and the only limitation I had was that I couldn’t lift anything heavy and to take it easy.”

Morris will still be at risk of developing new blockages in her arteries in the future, so she must undergo routine testing every six months. But she felt “immediate relief” after the surgery, and within less than a week of the procedure she was even feeling good enough to go on an hours-long shopping trip. She’s been able to get back to making future travel plans, too.

Thors said PAD can often go undiagnosed, especially in older individuals with a history of smoking, diabetes and heart disease. In Morris’ case, as a former smoker, she had been complaining about her symptoms for years.

Individuals who are 40 and older with a history of smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease are recommended to be screened for PAD using a test called the ankle brachial index, or ABI. A primary care provider can order this screening for you in addition to your annual physical and health screenings.

“If you are ever having continuous leg pain or cramping, go get it looked at,” Morris said. “Don’t push it off as just a symptom of getting older like I did.”

“Although it’s a disease that won’t go away and I’ll have it for the rest of my life, I am confident that I will still have a great life,” she said. “I feel better and healthier.”

• Kade Han is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health.


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