News Flash > Cardiovascular Health

 

Stem Cells Save Legs

Reported December 25, 2009


CHARLESTON, S.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Two million people in the United Sates suffer from critical limb ischemia, or poor blood flow to their legs. As the number of diabetics soars, the number of those affected is expected to almost double by 2020. The condition causes severe pain and chronic infection. Surgery to open blocked veins is often the treatment, but for 40 percent of patients it doesn't work and they lose their leg to amputation. Now, doctors are turning to a patient's own body to heal itself.

Cathy Ballzigler doesn't take one moment of her life for granted. A few years ago, she came close to losing it.

"He told my husband that I was about 11 weeks from dying," Ballzigler told Ivanhoe.

Ballzigler was losing feeling in her leg. Her doctor said it was critical limb ischemia. The arteries in her leg were blocked. A year of surgeries didn't help, and she was told amputation was her last resort.

"He really wanted to take my leg off, but I would beg and plead and say don't take it off, just do what you can," Ballzigler said.

 

 

"They'll often have unresolving wounds -- wounds that just will not heal because they don't have the blood supply to the tissues," George Geils, Jr., M.D., medical director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Roper St. Francis Healthcare in Charleston, S.C., told Ivanhoe.

An experimental 20-minute procedure is helping patients who've run out of options. Doctors remove stem cells from the pelvic bone and inject them back into the leg along the course of the diseased artery.

"If you take those stem cells out and put them into another organ, they can actually function and grow a different tissue in the body," Dr. Geils said.

After four to six weeks, new arteries start to grow.

"I went from 17 percent oxygen to over 66 percent oxygen after my surgery," Ballzigler said.

Today, she toasts to her future and is thankful for a second chance.

Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure put patients at risk for critical limb ischemia. The stem cell treatment costs less than conventional limb-saving procedures like bypass surgery and stents.