KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A man facing the amputation of his legs is getting a rare opportunity to avoid that thanks to a doctor at St. Luke’s Health System. The treatment is working.
The problem stems from peripheral artery disease, which impacts millions of American. Now there’s a trial procedure that could help.
Harold Spillman is on a journey to save his legs. He has a complicated vascular disease. Severe blockages in arteries limit blood flow from his heart to his feet.
“I have plaque in my arteries. I’ve never smoked, never drank or drank very little,” Spillman said. “It’s just hereditary. I got it from my father who died of a heart attack.”
Spillman used crutches to get around. Where he wasn’t numb, there was shooting pain.
But the biggest blow for this retired P.E. teacher and coach was when a doctor said amputation was the only option.
“I was just in the gutter,” Spillman said. “It was very, very depressing.”
Hope came in the form of innovation and a phone call from a former student.
“As a teacher, you remember your very good students and your very bad students, and Jim was one of my very bad students,” Spillman said, laughing.
All jokes aside, Jim Chapman connected Spillman with the top doctors performing cutting edge trials in Cleveland and St. Luke’s in Kansas City.
They were able to save his legs through a new procedure called LimFlow.
“So we just reverse the flow in the veins and provide blood flow to the foot through the veins to get procedure done,” said Dr. Matthew Bunte, co-director at St. Luke’s Vascular Hospital.
Here’s how it works: Bunte diverts blood flow around blocked arteries through veins in the lower leg and into the foot.
“That circuit that is created in the bottom of the middle of the foot can then supply blood flow into the areas of ruin in the foot to save the leg from amputation,” Bunte said.
Bunte said this procedure is for people whose only option is amputation.
Spillman is one of seven to have it done at St. Luke’s. Right now, it’s the only hospital in the metro offering the trial.
“I’m excited about this,” Spillman said, “because my legs feel different than they’ve ever felt before.”
He could not be happier with the results, thanking Bunte and Chapman.
“Jim has become I think my third son,” Spillman said.
Spillman said he wouldn’t have made it without the “world’s greatest nurse” — his wife, a retired health care worker.
“Besides being married for 52 years, she’s my best friend,” Spillman said emotionally. “I just love her to pieces.”
Spillman once faced a life as an amputee. Now, he’s looking forward to walking, golfing and fishing with family.