NEW ORLEANS -- Blocked blood vessels in legs are common in Southeast Louisiana because of the high rate of smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and aging.
The treatment to save people from amputation can be dangerous to some, so they are turned away. Now patients have another limb and life-saving option.
Samuel Curtis, Jr. remembers when just walking caused pain.
"Sometimes my feet get cold, cold, cold and feel like a piece of meat when you done took it out of the deep freeze or something," he said.
"The circulation to his foot was so bad that he had, was basically facing amputation," said his physician, Dr. Owen Mogabgab, an Interventional Cardiologist at Tulane Medical Center.
For years doctors have gone in the catheterization laboratory, or cath lab, to open blocked arteries with a balloon threaded into the blood vessel, or with a stent. A contrast dye is typically used to see the blockage. But that contrast can be toxic to the kidneys.
"Patients do end up on dialysis after some of these procedures where a lot of contrast is used, or if even a little contrast is used and their kidney function is very bad," explained Dr. Mogabgab, who says that medical testing is not accurate at showing kidney damage before the procedure.
Now the Tulane Heart and Vascular Institute is doing catheter procedures without the dye.
"Those patients that we said, 'Sorry we can't help you.' Now we can help you. There's a whole different class of people that we can now help," said Dr. Jim Caridi, a Tulane Vascular and Interventional Radiologist. He says across the country 100,000 procedures have been done using CO2 and there are fewer complications than with contrast dye.
Carbon dioxide has been used to help doctors visualize the arteries for a long time, but now new technology allows it to be used more safely, easily and quickly. It's less expensive and the kidneys are not at risk. With CO2 rather than dye, doctors can even find the smallest hole in a vessel that is leaking blood.
"It's saved a lot of lives because we wouldn't see those bleeds. They'd have to go back to surgery at risk, or they wouldn't be treated and they'd bleed to death," explained Dr. Caridi.
Samuel has bad kidneys but using CO2 allowed him to get the procedure to save his leg.
"It doesn't help to save the leg if you have to walk to dialysis three times a week. I think it was a great benefit to him," said Dr. Mogabgab.
"I can sleep better. Don't have all those pains, you know, walk better, everything. Ain't got to limp too much now. Get up and go," said Curtis.
The carbon dioxide rather than dye can be used in the cath lab for many other procedures too: repairing aneurysms, planting chemo beads in cancer tumors, blocking blood to uterine fibroids, implanting blood clot filters, treating fistulas, and connecting veins.