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Tom Fetterman: Peripheral Arterial Disease

A man with gray hair and rounded glasses. He wears a black shirt. He is smiling and looks happy.

Meet Tom Fetterman

It might be an understatement to call Tom Fetterman an “avid runner.” He’s completed a marathon in every state, including the Boston Marathon five times and multiple Pittsburgh Marathons, not far from his home in Indiana County, Pa.

But in 2007, Tom noticed something was wrong during what should have been a routine run.

“I started to cramp up and just thought I was low on electrolytes,” Tom recalls. “It would start and stop, and when it stopped, I was able to keep running again.”

When he went to visit his local doctor, Tom was told an artery in his right leg was blocked from his groin to his knee, and he needed to have a bypass put in. That surgery seemed to work…for a while.

During a trip to Arizona in February of 2008, Tom’s blood clotted, and he was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Phoenix, where doctors put a stent in his popliteal artery behind the knee.

The Path to UPMC

After returning to Pennsylvania, Tom accidentally bent the stent behind his knee and caused the blockage to return. This time, he was referred to UPMC and placed under the care of Rabih Chaer, MD.

Dr. Chaer performed a new redo bypass, a 10-hour procedure which required putting together multiple veins from Tom’s arm and placing them in his leg.

“The expectations were higher,” recalls Dr. Chaer. “I needed to get him back in shape for running, and this type of bypass is typically reserved as a last resort.”

Tom soon returned to running and has completed 10 marathons and six half marathons since 2008. In 2011, he ran a 70K (43.5 miles) on his 70th birthday. Throughout his lifetime, Tom’s total number of runs is 117.

“I was told in Arizona that I’d never run again,” Tom explains. “That gave me the motivation I needed to prove people wrong.”

Return to UPMC

In 2015 – while running – Tom started cramping again. This time, the issue was in his left leg, but he recognized the symptoms and planned a return to Pittsburgh.

Georges Al-Khoury, MD, performed the surgery, placing a small stent in Tom’s left leg that held for three years before blocking off.

That prompted another return to UPMC, where Dr. Chaer opened up the artery. 

Running the Road to Recovery

Now 80 years old, Tom is thankful for everyone who has played a part in keeping him on his feet and able to do what he loves.

“I can’t say enough about UPMC. Everybody was so good to me…so nice and cordial. From the nurses to the doctors and everyone else I encountered throughout this process.”

Tom feels like the bond he created with his surgeon is extra special.

“I would travel twice as far to see Dr. Chaer,” Tom says. “He’s such a caring physician who is very good in his field. He saved my leg.”

And Dr. Chaer found inspiration in his patient – becoming an active runner as well.

“Mr. Fetterman is thankful that I saved his legs, but the truth is, he gave me a new lease on health by encouraging me to train and run,” Dr. Chaer explains. “He invited me to run the veteran’s marathon that he used to organize, which was my first marathon ever. Seeing Tom at the finish line to give me my medal was priceless. I owe him and will never forget how he inspired to change my life.” 

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

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