Life-Saving Vascular Surgery Saves Man With Blocked Arteries
High risk of stroke with two blocked carotid arteries
When he zoomed around the racetrack on his lawnmower, Richard King held tight and placed his trust in his skills and the power of his ride. It was a winning strategy. His talent and high-energy lawnmower earned Richard a class championship in his final 20-lap contest, back in 2015.
In 2018, Richard found himself in a different race – a race for his life. An ultrasound revealed that plaque, a fatty, waxy substance, had formed a roadblock in Richard’s carotid arteries, located on each side of his neck. Richard’s right carotid artery was 100% blocked and his left carotid artery was 90% blocked. Due to limited access for blood to travel to the brain, Richard had an extremely high risk of suffering a major stroke.
Choosing a vascular surgeon to perform carotid endarterectomy
With his life on the line, Richard said he placed his faith in God and the skills of Lane Lee, D.O., of the Genesis Heart, Lung & Vascular Group.
Dr. Lee, a vascular surgeon with more than 20 years of experience, joined Genesis in 2018. He provides expertise in peripheral arterial and venous disease, and he immediately recognized Richard’s need for vascular surgery to clean out his left carotid artery.
In the two weeks before seeing Dr. Lee, Richard King had two active mini-strokes, with dizziness and slurred speech due to intermittent lack of blood flow to the head. “If we didn’t perform his surgery right away, he could have experienced a larger stroke that would have left him severely debilitated … or he wouldn’t have survived,” Dr. Lee explained.
Symptoms of a blocked carotid artery
In a way, Richard was lucky – most people with artery “roadblocks” don’t experience warning symptoms. Often, the first and only symptom that appears is a heart attack, major stroke or sudden coronary death. That’s because plaque builds up silently inside carotid arteries, gradually narrowing the passageway for blood to flow to the brain.
Plaque can build up due to a high-cholesterol diet, high blood pressure, smoking and uncontrolled diabetes. As the plaque layers thicken, the walls of the arteries harden, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Understanding the carotid endarterectomy procedure
To improve blood flow and widen the opening of the carotid artery, Dr. Lee performed a carotid endarterectomy for Richard, a surgical procedure to remove the plaque clogging the artery.
Here’s how an endarterectomy procedure works: First, patients receive either general or local anesthesia. Then the surgeon makes an incision along the front of the neck and clamps the carotid artery above and below the main area of focus, to prevent damaging debris or blood clots. The surgeon then carefully maneuvers surgical instruments to manually remove the plaque buildup.
Lastly, the surgeon repairs the artery before removing the clamps and closing the incision. The entire procedure takes between 60 to 90 minutes, and then the patient typically spends one night in the hospital for observation before returning home.
“They told me about the procedure, and I was worried about going into surgery. I was scared,” Richard said. “The nurse put me at ease though. She joked with me, calling the blue surgical cap my new Easter bonnet. She got me chuckling, and everything went well. I never had a bit of pain. Dr. Lee did a wonderful job. He’s kind and down to earth, and he knows what he’s doing.”
More time and energy after surgery
Today, blood flows unrestrained through Richard’s left carotid artery. He says he can feel a difference, as he has more energy to do things around the house. Though he’s not racing lawnmowers these days, Richard recognizes that this surgery helped him win the most vital race for more time on earth. As for Dr. Lee, well, the experience introduced him to something new, too.
“I had never heard about lawnmower racing before he told me about it. I had to drive out and see the track. It’s pretty neat,” Dr. Lee said. “I have a lawnmower … but I can’t imagine racing it.”
It’s a good thing Dr. Lee plans to stick with serving as a physician – his skills as a complex, vascular surgeon save the lives of our community members on a regular basis.
Make an appointment
Do you have a heart or vascular health question? Check with your family physician about scheduling an appointment with Dr. Lee or the specialists at the Genesis Heart, Lung & Vascular Group at (740) 454-0804.