Rare Vascular Disease That Can Be Triggered by Exercise Almost Costs Fitness Trainer His Legs

A rare vascular disease was diagnosed just in time before it would have drastically changed a man's life.

The disease, which can affect young athletes, almost cost IT specialist and fitness trainer Joel Patton, 34, his legs last year.

“They started to talk about amputation options right then and there … because it's that far gone, your arteries are destroyed,” he said.

The symptoms began a few months earlier and gradually progressed.

“It was one leg, just the left side, and I just noticed again my leg from the knee down went from very, very bright red to pale to dark blue, and it would really show in the toes,” Patton said.

The pain also increased. Diabetes runs in his family, but he tested negative for that and other illnesses, puzzling doctors.

After an MRI, doctors immediately sent him to Dr. Rajesh at MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“Joel had a relatively rare disorder, which you see in young athletic people,” Malik said. “He had what is called popliteal artery entrapment syndrome.”

PAES constricts blood flow from a main artery that goes down below the knee from the groin before breaking off into three branches that supply blood to the leg.

“A band of muscle was squeezing on his artery, so every time he moved, he worked out, unknowingly, he was actually damaging his artery,” Malik said.

It is almost always congenital and can be activated by exercise.

Patton’s case was the first Malik had seen outside of medical school.

“He had pretty advanced ischemia, or lack of blood to foot, and was at risk for imminent loss of his leg,” Malik said.

He treated Patton with blood thinners at first to get the leg in better shape for operating.

“Went very, very well,” Malik said. “We were able to see the muscle band constricting the artery and were able to release it.

Patton's right leg seemed fine, but it is rare for only one leg to be affected, Malik said. He operated on the right leg a few weeks later.

Although Patton said he still questions why it happened to him, he is grateful it was caught in time and is working toward building up his strength and getting his life back on track.

Malik plans to present Patton's case in June at a vascular conference. He hopes it will help medical professionals better understand this unique illness.

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