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Leo Parks: Popliteal Artery Aneurysm

The Challenge: Severe Leg Pain

One Thursday morning in August 2017, Leo Parks arrived at work with pain in his leg.

He had no history of heart or blood vessel problems, and at 67, Leo was in good health. He still worked full-time and played golf a few times a week.

Later that morning, Leo decided to go home and call his doctor about the worsening pain. By the time he got home, Leo realized he needed urgent help.

“I’ve never had pain like that,” Leo recalled.

He dialed 911, and paramedics took him to a nearby hospital. There, Leo learned that he had an aneurysm in his right popliteal artery — the main blood vessel behind his knee.

An aneurysm happens when a part of an artery becomes weak and balloons outward.

Aneurysms can happen in any artery but are most common in the abdominal aorta, the main blood vessel in the abdomen. Abdominal aortic aneurysms can cause life-threatening bleeding if they burst.

While the risk of a rupture is lower with a popliteal artery aneurysm, they can thrombose, or form blood clots.

If blood can’t get to the lower leg for too long, it can cause severe problems like tissue death and limb loss.

The Path to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute 

Leo had several clots blocking blood flow to his lower leg. He and his family opted to seek care at UPMC.

Leo arrived at the Emergency Department at UPMC Presbyterian on Sunday afternoon. It was only a few days after his pain had begun and after the failed attempts to revive his leg.

He met Mohammad Eslami, MD, and his team.

Dr. Eslami explained that the clot had blocked blood flow to Leo’s leg for too long. He needed to amputate it above the knee.

Dr. Eslami’s urgent attention to Leo's needs and quick treatment plan — even though it was life-altering — impressed Leo and his family.

The Solution: Surgery

That same night, Dr. Eslami and his team did an amputation.

Leo recalls waking up the next morning and having a very encouraging talk with his care team. They discussed his options for prosthetics and how he'd be able to get back to a normal level of activity.

But before Leo could start rehabilitation, he had to overcome another hurdle.

Popliteal artery aneurysms often happen in both legs and are also linked to abdominal aortic aneurysms. Dr. Eslami ordered imaging tests to check the health of his other arteries.

Leo had another aneurysm in the popliteal artery in his left leg.

A few days after Leo's first operation, Dr. Eslami performed an open surgical technique. He bypassed Leo’s damaged artery and tied off the aneurysm to restore proper blood flow.

The Results: A New Leg

After his discharge, Leo went through extensive rehab and learned to walk on his new prosthetic leg. So far, he’s logged more than a quarter of a million steps.

“Dr. Eslami gave me my life back,” Leo said.

Leo believes in staying positive and grateful, no matter what comes his way.

Today, Leo’s back at work and on the golf course, where he recently hit a 210-foot drive.

Leo's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.

Read more vascular condition patient stories

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