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Second Opinion Leads to Second Lease on Life for Montgomery Retiree

Lille McCloudLillie McCloud, 75, was suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. By fall 2016, the Montgomery, Ala., resident’s condition had become extreme; she was unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair due to the pain.

Without proper treatment, PAD can progress to cause serious tissue damage in the form of sores or gangrene (tissue death) arising from inadequate blood flow. In extreme cases of PAD, also referred to as chronic limb-threatening ischemia, amputation may be necessary. September is designated as PAD Awareness Month, to help draw attention to a condition that affects an estimated 18 million people in the United States alone.

To prevent amputation, McCloud needed a minimally invasive procedure called balloon angioplasty (designed to widen blocked or narrowed blood vessels) on the vessels below her knee, to restore blood flow to her foot. Adam Beck, MD, director of the UAB Medicine Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy, performed the treatment, and McCloud has resumed a normal life.

Unacceptable Prognosis

That’s not a dramatic medical story, at least not in the technical sense. As Dr. Beck himself characterizes McCloud’s case, “It’s not a big or complicated procedure, but a nice story with a nice result.”

However, there is a detail in McCloud’s medical saga that is well worth considering. She had been treated – including undergoing surgery – with no success before coming to UAB Medicine. Fortunately, her family pushed for a second opinion. McCloud’s son, Tim Thomas, led that effort from his home in Odessa, Texas.

“Her condition got so bad, I felt as though my mom was just dwindling away,” Thomas says. “She seemed depressed. I had never seen her cry, other than tears of joy and on the day my stepfather passed away. She’s the toughest person I know and has suffered from a number of ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, gallstones, acid reflux, and more. But through all those struggles she has always been an active, happy, and caring person who enjoys life. I decided I was not going to accept the prognosis she received from the doctors.”

McCloud was unable to walk due to pain and weakness from the wound developing on her leg as a result of extreme PAD. She could not increase the dosage of her arthritis medication because it might weaken her immune system, leaving the wound even more vulnerable to infection.

Worried and frustrated that his mother’s treatment and surgery had not been effective, Thomas first sought physicians at hospitals in Dallas and Houston. After consulting with friends and relatives and hours of searching online for specialists, he concluded it was more feasible to seek medical care closer to her home, in Birmingham or Atlanta.

“I was desperate at that point,” Thomas recalls. “But when I ran across information about Dr. Beck, I was intrigued. I just took a shot in the dark and called the number. I spoke with a member of Dr. Beck’s staff, and during my conversation with her, my sense of helplessness for my mom turned to hope. She offered no guarantees, but it was obvious that the staff believed in Dr. Beck 100 percent. I called my brothers and sisters and told them we should get mom to Birmingham to see Adam Beck.”

‘They Gave Me Hope’

The first person to recognize the value of this second opinion was, appropriately, McCloud herself.

“Right away I saw a big difference,” she says about UAB Medicine. “They made me feel like I was their number one patient. Dr. Beck and his team have a personal touch and attitude that gave me hope right away and throughout the treatment and follow-up. I really don’t think I would be here today if some sort of treatment hadn’t resolved this. Dr. Beck is a blessing. My whole experience with his kind and caring team has been a blessing.”

After the successful procedure, McCloud resumed doing the things she enjoys most. She retired in 2016 after 47 years of working in the nutrition program at Georgia Washington Junior High School in Montgomery, but she still loves cooking and staying active. In fact, Thomas and his siblings now wonder if their mother isn’t overdoing it. “She’s even driving again sometimes,” he says. “She does a lot. But after coming through that dark tunnel, we will settle for overdoing.”