July 21, 2004 – When 74-year-old Alfredo Peets of St. Thomas had a routine medical checkup in April, he wasnt experiencing any unusual aches or pains. What his doctor discovered surprised him. An initial exam showed Peets had critical narrowing in his carotid arteries. Further testing showed that one of the two arteries was 85 percent blocked.
In lay terms, Peets was a stroke waiting to happen.
Carotid arteries are the main suppliers of blood and oxygen to the brain. Carotid endarterectomy is kind of surgery that removes harmful plaque from the arteries. It's a procedure widely used in the States to reduce the risk of stroke by up to 50 percent, but until now it has not been done in the Virgin Islands.
Peets had one artery cleared in April and the other cleared in June in procedures carried out at Roy L. Schneider Hospital.
"It's very intricate surgery, but it is a treatment that has proven safe and effective in providing long-term benefits to patients," Dr. Gilbert Comissiong, who performed both operations, said. He says the surgery is performed only for patients with an artery narrowed by 60 per cent or more.
Although there are no symptoms specific to carotid artery disease, there can be warning signs. Some people have mini-strokes that cause headache, dizziness, tingling, numbness, blurred vision, confusion and/or paralysis. But often, as it was with Peets, there is no warning.
"He was taken aback by the diagnosis," Michael Burton, Schneider Hospital public information officer, said.
According to the American Heart Association, if you smoke, drink excessively or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, youre at risk.
"Strokes are preventable," Burton said. "This surgery is just one of the ways we can do that. The main thing is to avoid the risk before you get to that point, that's why its important for people over 55 to get screened at the hospital."
"This is another example of the increased level of health care services we are providing to the Virgin Islands community," Rodney E. Miller Sr., Schneider Hospital chief executive officer, said. "It shows that many patients do not have to be transported off-island to get this type of expert care in stroke prevention."
As for Peets, he says he is doing great.
"I'm glad I had the surgery done, because what scared me was that there was no timetable on when this could happen a stroke, I mean," he said. "I decided to go ahead and have the surgery done right here on island because I trusted the doctor and had faith."
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