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University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Surgeons Combine Efforts to Save Limbs Ravaged by Diabetic Complications and Trauma

PITTSBURGH, April 11, 2001 — Surgeons at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have announced the opening of the Limb Salvage Center dedicated to saving limbs damaged by diabetic complications, trauma and peripheral vascular disease. The program is a collaborative effort of vascular, orthopaedic, plastic and trauma surgeons and specialists in infectious disease.

"Although some patients may be told by their physician that they have no recourse but to have their foot or leg amputated, many limbs can be saved with aggressive medical management and surgery," said David Steed, M.D., professor in the division of vascular surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of the new program at UPMC Presbyterian. "Our center hopes to reduce the amputation rate for severely damaged limbs."

A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care reported on the dramatic increase in the incidence of diabetes in the United States from 1990 to 1998. Diabetes can cause severe complications including difficult-to-treat foot ulcers, which can lead to foot or leg amputation. It is responsible for more than 40 percent of all non-traumatic amputations in the United States. Other causes for amputation are trauma and ischemic disease.

UPMC's Limb Salvage Center is the only program in western Pennsylvania that offers patients a full range of limb salvage therapy, including vascular surgery, revascularization bypass surgery, plastic surgery, microvascular surgery, orthopaedic reconstruction and specialized infection control care.

“While not all limbs can be saved, more than half of the patients referred to the center with inadequate blood supply, infection, inadequate soft tissue coverage, fractures or osteomyelitis are able to retain their limb,” Dr. Steed said.

The UPMC program has particular experience with complex patients displaying more than one limb-threatening condition. In addition, the center features a research component that gives patients access to clinical trials looking for new methods and treatments to prevent amputation.

“In the past several years alone, there have been a number of promising topical agents to treat chronic wounds such as diabetic skin wounds, pressure sores and wounds from poor circulation,” said Dr. Steed, who is a national leader in performing clinical trials of new wound healing agents for difficult-to-treat wounds, that can eventually result in amputation if not treated aggressively. “These drugs, known as human growth factors, made from a small amount of the patient’s blood, speed the healing process."

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