New Procedure Combats Effects of Peripheral Vascular Disease

Cardnel Bardney looks like a happy, confident man walking down the street. But only months ago, the Chicago resident could barely walk, switching between a walker and wheelchair in extreme pain.

At 65 years old, he had spent 15 years undergoing surgeries for the peripheral vascular disease destroying his legs. Deprived of oxygenated nutritive blood flow, his tissues were perishing.

“I knew I was in danger,” Bardney said.

Circulation in his left leg was only 17 percent of normal, and in his right only 40 percent. Doctors were proposing amputation—until Mr. Bardney was referred to Weiss Memorial Hospital where Vascular Surgeon Darwin Eton, M.D., F.A.C.S., took over his care.

Their meeting would change Bardney’s life.

BIOLOGY OF BLOOD VESSEL FORMATION

Dr. Eton had been studying patients with issues like Bardney’s for years. He saw many who, because of poor blood flow, had minor scrapes that morphed into major catastrophes.But there is good news. Human blood vessels grow throughout life. So Dr. Eton reasoned that if the environment within the deteriorating tissues could be improved, the ability for blood vessels to start growing again naturally could be restored. In essence, nature would make its own “bypasses” to treat poor blood flow.

Based on that theory, Dr. Eton developed a safe, two-pronged treatment approach. First, he administers a drug to mobilize reparative cells into the blood stream. Patients take the drug once every three days for two to four weeks. It is FDA approved for stem cell mobilization and typically used to boost the immune system in cancer patients to help fend off infection after chemotherapy. Next, he attaches a device to the patient’s lower leg to help pump these cells, along with blood, into the starving tissue. Dr. Eton has found that the drug and device work best together, each contributing to an environment that enables cells to produce powerful proteins needed to build new vessels.

Dr. Eton’s research stemmed from a unique training as a vascular surgeon, a vascular and molecular biologist, and a chemical engineer. “The new knowledge arising from these various disciplines needed to come together in our united quest to help the body make its own bypasses,” Dr. Eton said.

PATIENT IMPROVEMENT

He tested his initial theory in three patients. Dr. Eton published results in the Journal of Vascular Surgery in 2010. Four years later, he shared the possibilities with Bardney.

“We were trying to make the environment right, and let the body manage itself,” Dr. Eton said.

“I knew Dr. Eton was concerned by the way he was talking to me,” Bardney said. “I knew I would do whatever he said.”

BACK ON HIS FEET

Bardney received a total of five injections of the drug. He sat for three hours each day with the pumping device on his legs, ensuring that his blood reached the distressed tissue.Within a week, he noticed a difference. His pain abated, and he could take the stairs. “I felt so good, I said, ‘Lord, you got me an excellent doctor.’”

Two months later, Bardney could walk substantially further—a stark improvement from the wheelchair. His blood flow was substantially better, returning even to his toe arteries.

“Every time we saw him, he was getting better and better, happier and happier,” Dr. Eton said.

For the first time in years, Bardney can imagine the possibility of fun in his life. “I used to hurt so bad, but now I want to live.” The amazement comes through in his voice. “My arteries are growing back—these brand new arteries.”