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"Legs for Life" Saving

Local medical experts warn of silent killer.

The admonition to hurry up, "shake a leg," could take on a dual life saving meaning for many who are unwitting hosts to one of medical science's silent killers. It is called peripheral vascular disease [PVD].

PVD is a common circulation problem in which the arteries that carry blood to the legs and arms become narrow or clogged. This interferes with the normal flow of blood, sometimes causing pain, but often causing no symptoms at all. More than half of those with PVD have no warning signs, according to Inova Health System.

"Those people who do have symptoms can often mistake the feelings for the normal physical progression of aging," says Calvin Neithamer, MD, interventional radiologist, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

"These symptoms can include painful cramping in the legs or hips, especially when walking. The pain typically goes away when muscles are resting. That's why so many people don't get to a doctor until later in the disease when it is more difficult to treat," Neithamer explained.

That was the scenario for 79-year-old Virginia Beale of Alexandria. She thought the pain in her legs was just another reminder of aging.

"I'm a volunteer at Mount Vernon Hospital and I give walking tours in Washington. I was experiencing pain when I was walking and then it would go away when I rested," Beale recalled.

"One day while volunteering at the hospital I noticed this sign in the lobby about Legs for Life screening. It listed the symptoms and they sounded just like mine, so I thought I'll sign up and see," she said.

That decision may have saved her life. It was discovered that she had a very serious case of PVD.

"They did an angiogram to locate the blockage. Then three or four days later they did an angioplasty," Beale explained.

That was over two years ago. "They also followed up with me about every two months for the first two years. I feel I was very lucky. If I hadn't seen the sign I would never have thought I had something like that," she said.

LEGS FOR LIFE is a national screening program which was started about five years ago, according to Neithamer. "We started it at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and have screened about 250 persons each year," he said.

"In most screening programs, only a small percentage of those screened will have the disease. But, in this case, we have been running between 10 and 20 percent with the disease. This is higher than many other screening programs," Neithamer said.

"In the past it has shown up in a higher percentage of men. But, it's becoming an equal opportunity disease," he pointed out.

Neithamer has been practicing interventional radiology since 1985 and at IMVH since 1988. He is president of the Metropolitan Radiological Society and the Chesapeake Radiological Interventional Society.

PVD affects 8 to 10 million people in the United States. Those with the disease who go untreated are at greater risk for heart attack, stokes, and even amputations of limbs. Across the nation, approximately one-fourth of those screened are either at moderate or high risk for PVD, according to statistics.

"It can hit you anytime, anywhere," Beale verified. "It's something everyone needs to be aware of and take advantage of these screenings. Because, like me, it could save your life."

IN CONJUNCTION with the Legs for Life program, Inova Health System is offering free screening for PVD, free carotid artery screenings, and screening for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm at all four of their facilities.

Registration is required and can be made by calling 703-204-3366.

Screening will be offered at the following locations, dates and times:

Inova Alexandria Hospital

4320 Seminary Road

Alexandria

Tuesday, September 9, 12:30 - 7 p.m.

Saturday, September 13, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Inova Mount Vernon Hospital

2501 Parker's Lane

Alexandria

Wednesday, September 24, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Inova Fair Oaks Hospital

3700 Siewick Drive

Fairfax

Saturday, September 13, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Inova Fairfax Hospital

3300 Gallows Road

Falls Church

Saturday, September 20, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.