Jim Kaminer, 69, of Palm Coast, prides himself on being active. A lifelong military man and Orlando native, Jim was always on the go, handling maintenance issues around the house and fishing in his spare time. Two years ago, after installing new wiring in his attic, he came down from the ladder, red faced, and was ordered by his wife, Carol, to rest. The next day he went for a routine health check-up.
During the examination, Jim’s physician placed a stethoscope to his neck and didn’t like what she heard. She sent him immediately to a local hospital, where tests revealed his carotid artery was blocked, and then had a procedure to clear it.
Two months later, Jim began experiencing numbness in his left arm and shoulder. He shrugged it off, not realizing it could be something more serious. During physical therapy for an unrelated back injury, the pain became unbearable and he was taken straight to the local hospital’s emergency department. More tests were ordered and Jim learned that arteries to his heart were blocked, requiring double bypass surgery, and that his carotid artery had become blocked again, about 90 percent.
Jim’s Treatment Options
If the narrowing of a carotid artery isn’t severe, medication may be prescribed to manage the condition. In more serious cases, the blockage can be removed during an operation called an endarterectomy. A third option, the one Jim chose, is carotid stenting in which a stent, or a small tube made of metal mesh, is inserted into a vein or artery to hold it open. This option is approved for patients who aren’t good candidates for traditional surgery or are at a high risk of complications from a traditional operation. Since there is no incision in either the neck of the groin, the hospital stay is typically less than 24 hours. Carotid stenting also allows prevention of stroke in patients who might otherwise do poorly with surgery.
Stopping Strokes in Time
Jim underwent carotid stenting immediately before his open-heart surgery. He says he’s grateful to have had the two procedures together because he learned that a blocked carotid artery can lead to a stroke during surgery.
If one or both carotid arteries — large blood vessels in the neck — become narrowed or blocked with plaque, the brain can become starved for oxygen, resulting in a stroke. Carotid artery disease develops slowly and often without symptoms. Blockages account for half the strokes recorded annually in the United States, yet many people are unaware they have it. Fortunately, many tests can pinpoint narrowed carotid arteries, including ultrasound, magnetic resonance angiography, computed tomography and others.
These days Jim says if something feels wrong, he won’t ignore it. He says he’s glad his physician was aware enough to listen to his body, even if he didn’t.