They say numbers never lie. Leonard Allen would beg to differ. At age 73, the 5-foot-9-inch Harbor Island resident weighed in at a healthy 160 pounds. His total cholesterol was 114—far below the recommended level of less than 200. He kept his blood pressure and blood sugar in check and walked 3 miles every day to stay fit.
“You wouldn’t have flagged him right off the bat,” says Beaufort Memorial vascular surgeon Chad Tober, MD. “By all accounts, he was a healthy man.” But no matter the numbers, Leonard was a walking time bomb. His left carotid artery was 90 percent blocked, his right, 70 percent. “It was very likely he was going to have a massive stroke,” Tober says.
Leonard Allen wasted no time after surgery returning to the volunteer activities he enjoys, such as keeping local roadways free of trash.
Leonard’s quick reaction to a mild stroke symptom and the diligence of Beaufort Memorial Hospital physicians and staff may have saved his life. “I am so grateful for everything they did for me,” Allen, now 74, says of the doctors who took care of him at BMH. “I have never been treated so well medically, professionally and personally.”
Had Leonard undergone a simple vascular screening, the buildup of plaque might have been detected before it became a serious health threat. “It just goes to show that you can be in great shape and still have issues,” Tober says. “That’s why I recommend getting a vascular screening somewhere between the ages of 65 and 70 to catch problems early.”
The screening involves several painless ultrasound tests used to find dangerous conditions, such as aortic aneurysms, leg artery blockages and carotid disease that can lead to stroke. Because Allen had not developed any warning symptoms, he never suspected he had vascular disease.
Fortunately, when he began experiencing a vague tingling feeling in his fingers, he was quick to act. “If you have any symptoms, don’t put it off,” Tober says. “It should be addressed right away.”
Since retiring from the insurance business 15 years ago, Leonard has made the most of his leisure time. He volunteers with the League of Older Americans, hits the fairway with friends and enjoys traveling with his wife, Betty. For more than 20 years, he has made it part of his daily routine to take a long, brisk walk.
Seven years ago, when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he stepped up his fitness plan. “The doctor told me I needed to exercise more, so I started walking an hour every day on St. Helena Sound beach,” Leonard says. “I didn’t have any other health issues. I felt great.” Then one night, his left shoulder began to ache. When he woke up the next morning with tingling fingers, he decided to go to a walk-in clinic.
The physician couldn’t find anything wrong with him but urged him to have ER doctors at Beaufort Memorial Hospital take a second look. “The Emergency Department physicians had a high level of suspicion something was wrong because of the tingling in his fingers,” Tober says. “They thought he might have had a ministroke, or TIA (transient ischemic attack).”
After running a number of tests, ER staff called in Tober for a consultation. The vascular surgeon told Leonard his carotid arteries—the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the head, brain and face—were severely blocked. “He was direct and honest and explained in detail how he would clear the blockage,” Leonard says. “I never had any fear.”
To reduce the risk of complications, Tober operated on the most damaged artery first, then waited two weeks to perform the procedure on the second one. Each time, Allen was discharged from the hospital after just one day. “Everyone in the hospital was so helpful and accommodating,” Leonard says. “The whole experience was much better than I would have expected.”
Beaufort Memorial Hospital offers a $60 vascular screening package that includes carotid artery, abdominal aortic aneurysm and ankle-brachial index scans. To make an appointment, call 843-522-5635.Photo courtesy of Summer 2016 issue of Living Well