Navigating the Vascular Highway

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On a Wednesday afternoon, Barbara Wellock, a Redding resident, was carpooling home with a friend after volunteering at a local elementary school, when in a flash her eyesight drastically changed. Suddenly, things were not as they appeared before.

“The white lines on the side of the road seemed to travel across the intersection. Instead of a straight line, it seemed to zigzag. From then on I began having double vision,” Wellock said.

She would later discover that she experienced a stroke to the muscle of her eye, referred to as “sixth nerve palsy.” Wellock had surgery to correct the problem.

After surgery, her eyesight was back but her peace of mind was not. She learned of Mercy Medical Center Redding’s vascular highway screening and thought it might hold the answers to her questions: Would she experience another stroke? Would her vision leave her once again? Was another surgery imminent?

The screening would take about an hour on a Saturday afternoon, consist of three exams, and conclude with a one-on-one consultation with a vascular specialist.

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“The vascular system consists of many branching vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to every crucial organ in our bodies,” says Dr. Bruce Miller, medical director of MMCR’s Cardiology Department. He has participated in past vascular screenings and educational events. “A screening can check for possible blockages in the carotid arteries that can result in stroke, as well as scan for an enlarged aorta that can result in a potentially life-threatening aneurysm. A screening also looks for blockages in the leg arteries which cause peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.”

MMCR’s lead registered vascular technologist Michael Lemos performs the examinations.
“The first exam is the ankle-brachial index, or ABI, and it takes five to 10 minutes to perform,” Lemos says. “The ABI checks the blood pressure in the arms and ankles letting us know if there are any blockages in the arteries.”

The stroke/carotid artery ultrasound is the second exam.

“This is an ultrasound taken on the neck,” Lemos says. “The ultrasound will tell us how well the blood is flowing through the arteries to the brain. There is no pain involved, and the ultrasound is performed by using sound waves, not radiation.”

The final exam is the abdominal aortic ultrasound, which looks at the aorta in the abdomen to detect possible aneurysm.

To prepare for the screening, patients need to do a few simple things to get ready:

  • Wear comfortable clothing, no turtlenecks.
  • Be prepared to remove shoes and socks.
  • Do not eat after midnight if your appointment is in the morning hours.
  • If you have a screening scheduled for the afternoon, a light breakfast is recommended.

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“Each time we do the screening, we find someone who didn’t know they had a potential problem, and we are able to prevent possible amputation, stroke or even sudden death,” Lemos says. Fortunately, Wellock was not one of those patients, and the news she received put her at ease.

“They did find some plaque in my arteries, but nothing serious. It is nice to know I am not at high risk for another stroke. It’s important to me because I want to continue to be able to live independently and enjoy doing the things I love, like spending time with my family,” she said.

Who should consider a screening?

“Discovering carotid disease, aortic aneurysm and PAD affecting the lower extremities can have significant impact on life and limb, even if the screening only identifies a problem that needs to be monitored,” says Dr. Douglas G. Hatter. “In the early stages of disease these problems can only be detected by screening exams. A screening should be considered for anyone more than 50 years of age, or earlier if you smoke or have a history of smoking, if you have diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, or a family history of PAD or aneurysm.”

Dr. Bruce Miller, Dr. Douglas G. Hatter, Dr. Robert Coronado, Dr. Mohamed H. Khan, and Dr. Donald E. Schepps will give a free informational presentation Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Mercy Medical Center Redding. They will provide a general overview of the body’s vascular system and what happens when obstructions occur.

A vascular highway screening will be offered Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for $99. Appointments are limited and participants must be pre-registered.

Call 24-Mercy (246-3729) to reserve.

Megan Loveless is Mercy Medical Center’s public relations coordinator. She may be emailed at Megan.Loveless@chw.edu. For more information about the Mercy Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine Center, call (530) 245-4801 or visit redding.mercy.org.

Photos by Michael Burke.

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1 Response

  1. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Really good information. I will sign up.