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Walking on sunshine

Treatment for peripheral arterial disease helps
Minot woman walk away from leg pain
I was scared I would never walk again without a walker. Then, when the medicine ran out, it was more pain than I could bear.”

That was the 2003 predicament in which Sharon Nelson of Minot found herself after six years of unsuccessfully battling peripheral arterial disease (PAD). As a disease that attacks the arteries of the legs, a hallmark symptom is excruciating cramping in the lower extremities, resulting in the inability to walk more than short distances.

During her years of illness Nelson had heard of treatments that were yielding successful results at Sanford Health in Bismarck. “I had heard a while back about Dr. (Sean) Russell from my brother-in-law’s mom,” she said. Then, as she lay frightened in a Minot healthcare facility one fall, an on-duty nurse also urged her to go to Bismarck. Next, a local physician recommended she seek an opinion from Dr. Russell, a cardiovascular surgeon at Sanford Health. Within a few short weeks, she’d made an appointment and was waiting nervously in an exam room.

PAD can have terrible consequences—in addition to pain, some patients eventually lose the affected limb due to poor circulation.

Dr. Russell said that while current outcomes of PAD treatments he provides can have outstanding success rates, the underlying condition often persists. “Whatever caused the blockage is still there. We don’t cure them; we buy them more time,” he said.

  Walking on sunshine
Thanks to care from Sanford Health’s cardiovascular surgery team for her peripheral arterial disease, Sharon Nelson of Minot is again able to play games with her grandchildren, including four-year-old Kambrie Larson.
As Nelson waited that day, she too knew how painfully persistent the new blockages continued to be, and though hopeful, she was not optimistic. “ ‘Don’t worry, you’re not going to lose your left leg’ were his very first words to me,” she remembers of her initial meeting with Dr. Russell. “I don’t know how he knew that was my worst fear, but I was immediately relieved and at ease.”

Dr. Sean Russell
Sean Russell, MD

Cardiovascular surgery

Fae Glass
Fae Glass, NP
Nurse practitioner
  From that day on, Nelson has followed through with medical treatment and surgeries as needed to keep one step ahead of the disabling pain. About a year ago, one of her regular visits indicated surgery would be necessary.

Fae Glass, a nurse practitioner with Sanford Health’s cardiovascular team, often runs CT scan angiograms which provide a picture of the arteries and any blockage. Nelson’s tests showed very little blood was circulating through or reaching her left foot.

To return blood flow to Nelson’s lower leg, Dr. Russell and his team completed a bypass procedure. The surgery entails bypassing the diseased artery with a Gortex graft (a substitute artery). “More than 90 percent of these operations are still open and working well after five years,” Dr. Russell said. “Though this procedure is more invasive, it provides the best long-term results.”

A short time later, Nelson’s right leg needed the same surgery. She said opting to repeat the surgery was an easy decision. “It’s simple, really. Without blood going to the leg, the pain was too much and I couldn’t walk,” she said. “And let me tell you, Sanford Health is not like other hospitals. There was always a nurse checking on me as I recovered.”

Since last spring, Nelson has returned to Sanford Health regularly. “I come for rechecks and have complete faith in the care I get at Sanford Health. They know if something’s starting to change, and I feel so secure,” she said. “And Fae just makes me feel so comfortable. They never judge, and they make you feel like you can take all the time you need.”

Dr. Russell emphasizes the importance of follow-up care. “We use ultrasound to monitor the patient’s condition. We also work on risk factor modification regarding diet and activity.”

“He’s just awesome,” Nelson said of Dr. Russell. “I don’t care how high gas prices get, I will never stop coming to Bismarck.”

Nelson is ecstatic to return to her active lifestyle. As a lady who loves to join in softball, badminton and other warm-weather games with her nine grandkids, she said it’s a blessing to have her walking legs back about her in full stride.

“Before, I wouldn’t have dared take the little grandkids to the mall. They’d get away from me,” Nelson said. With a smile on her face, she added: “But now, I can chase them down if I need to.”

Click here for more information about PAD or to schedule an appointment with Sanford Health’s cardiovascular surgery team, or call (701) 323-5202.


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