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Every thirty seconds, a limb is amputated.

But this doesn't have to be.

Posted by John Rundback, MD on May 2, 2018


More than two million people in the U.S. are living with limb loss. The majority of which resulted from vascular diseases.

But now, thanks to groundbreaking treatments, far fewer people may receive this devastating treatment recommendation.

Dr. John Rundback is a renowned interventional radiologist in practice for nearly two decades and the director of the Interventional Institute at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. He says as many as 80 to 90 percent of major amputations can be prevented with a simple vascular evaluation.

"A vascular evaluation is a non-invasive test that determines if the arteries in your legs or arms are blocked or narrowed," says Dr. Rundback.

Many people may not know the symptoms of a blockage or narrowing of the arteries, which typically include some coldness, numbness, or non-healing ulcers in the affected limb. But these are the signs that something is very wrong.

That something is most likely a disease known as atherosclerosis, which is caused by deposits of plaque and fatty material on the inner walls of arteries. Atherosclerosis could be the result of any number of prolonged conditions, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even arthritis. When left untreated, atherosclerosis can prevent wounds from healing, which can ultimately lead to amputation.

There's a prevailing view that atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," is just a phenomenon of getting older, says Dr. Rundback, but this is just not the case. There are several new procedures that can improve blood flow, ultimately preventing amputations.

"One that we're incredibly excited about uses an injection of amniotic stem cells into the affected blood vessel," says Dr. Rundback. The hope is that these cells will work as they do in the very early stages of life and produce new blood vessels. These new and improved blood vessels can restore blood flow to the affected area, reducing inflammation and increasing circulation.

Dr. Rundback and his team of interventional radiologists are also studying a procedure known as Stop-Pad. This groundbreaking clinical trial, conducted at Holy Name Medical Center, is evaluating the injection of a special protein that helps the body mobilize specialized cells that heal damaged tissue and help develop new blood vessels. This allows healing to occur more effectively compared to restoring blood flow alone. The two-year study, conducted at 24 sites across the U.S. and in its second year, has already shown positive results in treating patients and has been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration.

Holy Name Medical Center is one of only five hospitals in the country where doctors have performed a procedure known as Limb Flow. This ingenious technique converts a vein into an artery, reversing the flow of blood to the affected limb. The renewed blood flow helps to heal the wound, and, ultimately, prevent amputation.

If you've been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, or diabetes, Dr. Rundback says pay extra attention to your feet and legs because they suffer first from insufficient blood flow.

Tell your doctor if you develop a sore or wound that won't heal so that he or she can look for the cause. Bad circulation can set the stage for many problems, making typically temporary injuries much more serious. These can include:

  • Blisters
  • Burns
  • Sores from new or ill-fitting shoes
  • Even bug bites

And if you have conditions that put you at increased risk for limb loss, Dr. Rundback recommends the following:

  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet
  • Control diabetes and blood pressure with medication
  • Exercise regularly; swimming is an excellent option if you have limited mobility

Dr. Rundback says amputation is an epidemic in this country today, but it doesn't have to be: "The work we're doing here is incredible. Our goal is to not only help people keep their limbs but the lives they've come to know and love."

Interventional radiology is an approach to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions and diseases without surgery. Holy Name Medical Center's interventional radiologists perform minimally invasive procedures using X-ray guidance and other imaging techniques. For more information or to schedule an appointment please call 201-833-7268.