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Published on February 12, 2019

Ready, SET, Go! New Rehab Program Helps Patients Get Moving

Older adults may chalk up leg cramps and discomfort to “old age” or conditions like arthritis, when in fact they could be suffering from a relatively common condition known as PAD (peripheral arterial disease). If they ignore the pain and fail to receive a diagnosis they could be at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and possible limb amputation.

Such was the case for retired Cook County sheriff Gloria. For two years, she could barely walk across a room without needing to sit down. “I didn’t know what was going on,” she says. “I was using a cane, and the pain got so bad I couldn’t put my shoes and socks on. I was very depressed.”

Eventually, Gloria consulted cardiologist James P. Sur, M.D., F.A.C.C., for help. “When I first saw Gloria, she was in pain, and her legs and feet were very discolored,” recalls Dr. Sur. “Tests confirmed she had moderately severe PAD, which occurs when arteries to the legs and feet become blocked due to plaque buildup.”

According to Dr. Sur, the process of developing PAD is similar to that of developing coronary artery disease. “The risk factors for both diseases are similar, with diabetes and smoking being major causes. In fact, studies show that patients who have PAD have as much risk of having a heart attack or stroke as patients who have known coronary artery disease. It’s important to identify patients with PAD and offer them risk modifications for those factors we know contribute to developing the disease,” he says.

Signs and Symptoms of PAD

Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs or exercising

Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising

Foot or toe wounds that won't heal or heal very slowly

Gangrene, or dead tissue

• A marked decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot particularly compared to the other leg or to the rest of your body

Poor nail growth on the toes or hair growth on the legs

Erectile dysfunction, especially in men with diabetes

In May of 2018 the Palos Cardiac Rehabilitation department launched its new SET (Supervised Exercise Therapy) program for PAD patients. Based on recommendations from the AACVPR (American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation), the program helps combat the effects of PAD and prevent further disease progression.

Dr. Sur suggested Gloria give the program a try. “We have seen improvement in patients, and studies have shown SET to be as effective as some oral medications,” he explains. “Often simple exercise can increase blood vessel growth in the areas that need more blood flow, and it also allows for conditioning of the leg muscles to better utilize the oxygen being provided.”

With her doctor’s order, Gloria began the SET program. Three times a week for 12 weeks, she performed various exercises under the supervision of a registered nurse, working to alleviate pain and improve her blood flow to her legs.

At first, Gloria was skeptical about the SET Program. “I didn’t think it was going to work, but Dr. Sur really encouraged me to come here.”  Within a just a few weeks, Gloria was walking again. “I went from barely walking to walking in three weeks. I can go down stairs and stand and wash dishes. I can dance too! I smile all the time because I feel good.”

Another benefit of the program for Gloria was making a new friend, fellow SET program participant Luanna, from Tinley Park. Like Gloria, Luanna heard about the program when she began seeing Dr. Sur for treatment.

“I was diagnosed with PAD a while ago, but was told it was not serious,” explained Luanna. “Even though my husband and I walk almost every morning, I was dealing with pain and difficulty climbing stairs.  Dr. Sur recommended I attend the new exercise program at Palos.”

Now that she has completed the program, Luanna finds her leg discomfort is greatly diminished. “The pain goes away within maybe 10 minutes of walking,” she states. “I’m hoping the program will help put off more invasive treatments down the road.”

“The availability of the SET program offers patients the most comprehensive care available for PAD,” states Dr. Sur. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the improvement that can be achieved through walking. SET can be used prior to an invasive procedure or as an adjunctive therapy for those who do have an invasive procedure or vascular surgery.”

Once skeptical, Gloria has nothing but high praise for the new program. “Coming to Cardiac Rehab was a challenge and an adventure,” said Gloria.  “The nurses were patient and concerned, but they pushed me to help me walk and climb stairs. This program made me feel human again.”

Talk to your doctor about PAD and learn if the SET program may be right for you. A doctor referral is needed to begin the program. In many cases SET therapy is approved by Medicare or major insurance carriers.

Contact Palos Cardiac Rehabilitation with questions or to make an appointment at 708-923-5188