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Seven years ago, on a cold afternoon in June, Joseph Gambino was relaxing at home when suddenly, he felt excruciating pain in his right leg.

“It was this unbearable pain,” he recalls. “And then my foot went numb.

“I knew something wasn’t right, so I took myself straight to hospital.”

When he arrived at the Emergency Department of Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney, he was seen to very quickly by doctors.

An ultrasound revealed that Joseph had a blockage in the artery behind his right knee, and he was diagnosed with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Disease in his arteries lead to a blood clot forming, stopping the blood flow to his leg.

“It was a huge shock,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting anything so serious. I had absolutely no warning signs or health issues before this. It was completely out of the blue.

I had nev­er heard of periph­er­al artery disease.”

Joseph was rushed into theatre at 6am the next morning for emergency bypass surgery, where Dr Sarah Aitken and her team redirected the blood supply around the blocked artery.

“If Sarah hadn’t operated so quickly, I almost certainly would have lost my lower right leg,” Joseph reveals. “I have her and her amazing team of vascular surgeons to thank that I didn’t.”

Recovery from the surgery was tough for Joseph. An effect of the lack of blood flow to the lower leg did cause some nerve damage and he does still experience some numbness in his toes.

“Unfortunately, the bypass graft blocked up a couple of months later and I had to have angioplasty to open it up again,” he explains. “I do still have some blood flow issues, but when you consider the alternative, I consider myself very lucky.

“In terms of exercise, I can’t run, but I can walk as long as it’s level terrain. If there is an incline or stairs, I do need to take regular breaks. I am also still able to drive, which I’m grateful for,” he adds.

Joseph sees Dr Aitken every six months for monitoring and takes a combination of medications every day. He also has regular toe pressure tests and recently had an ultrasound where they found an aneurysm in his iliac artery.

While the cause of PAD is unknown, risk factors include a history of smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It also typically occurs in older people.

However, as Joseph discovered, this isn’t always the case. And symptoms can often be silent.

“PAD can strike anyone, at any age. I stopped smoking in my late 20s and rarely drank and have always eaten a relatively healthy diet. And I was only 60 at the time.

“And while I do have type 2 diabetes, Sarah said unfortunately, in my case it was just bad luck.”

Joseph is sharing his story to help raise awareness about PAD.

“Please be aware that you might not experience any symptoms. PAD can strike without warning. And if you are in the high-risk group, it’s important to be aware of the signs and get regular check-ups.

“I would also like to see more education about PAD among GPs.”

Joseph recently attended the first consumer meeting of the HRI Centre for PAD, which has been established to help improve the lives of patients living with PAD.

“It was fascinating to hear more about Mary Kavurma’s research and the new treatments that are currently being developed.

“I’m so grateful for the research and to the vascular team at Concord Hospital and am keen to contribute in any way to make people more aware of this disease.”

How is HRI helping?

To address the gaps in PAD pathophysiology, treatment and patient care, HRI has established a Centre for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). The Centre is the first of its kind in NSW and is leading the way for PAD research in Australia.

The Centre was established by a team of experts, chaired by HRI’s Assoc Prof Mary Kavurma, along with vascular surgeons Assoc Prof Sarah Aitken and Dr David Robinson, and HRI’s Prof Andrew Coats and Prof Mathew Vadas.

In addition, our Vascular Complications Group, led by Assoc Prof Kavurma, is developing more effective treatments for the debilitating conditions associated with vascular complications like PAD.

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