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Years of leg ulcer pain for 1 Utah horse lover fixed in days with new treatment

By Wendy Leonard, KSL | Posted - Jul 8th, 2019 @ 10:07pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — For two years, Bonnie Christensen religiously visited the wound clinic at LDS Hospital.

Despite repeated treatments, the open sores on her leg would not go away. They just got worse.

"It is the most painful thing I've ever had, and it just lasted forever and ever, amen," Christensen said.

She had casually bumped her leg on a wooden cart she uses to haul hay to feed the 10 horses she keeps on 5 acres of property that she owns in northern Salt Lake. She didn't even think anything of it, until the bruise flared up.

The supposedly small injury got to the point where Christensen could barely even walk, which was impeding work on her farm, as well as her day job at an Intermountain Farmers Association warehouse.

"Everything just took longer to do," she said.

As an active 67-year-old, Christensen is healthy and doesn't go the doctor for just anything, but, for this simple injury, she'd been to urgent care and then the emergency room when it got worse, and then to two years of appointments attempting to nurse her swollen and oozing venous ulcers back to health.

"So many people just get their leg cut off, their pain is so bad," she said. "I just thought, 'I'm not losing my leg. That's not an option.'"

Christensen was ultimately directed to Utah Cardiology, in Farmington, where Dr. Christopher Kim, an interventional cardiologist, discovered that the horse lover had chronic venous insufficiency, a likely inherited condition similar to varicose veins, but where blood pools in the deep leg veins, causing swelling, pain and reduced circulation.

Kim said that as the valves in the veins that push the blood back and forth to the heart get older, they wear down and let blood flow in both directions, sometimes pooling in lower extremities.

"It's extremely common," he said, adding that most people over age 30 have some degree of venous insufficiency.

Both varicose and chronic venous insufficiency typically result in painful removal of troublesome veins or, in severe cases, amputation.

Now, there's another option.

VenaSeal, a product Kim calls "medical superglue," can close off the affected veins.

"The advantage of VenaSeal over traditional thermal closure of the veins is the absence of heat, which means less discomfort and no chance of thermal injury, which, though rare, can range from superficial skin burns to permanent nerve irritation," Kim said. He said VenaSeal, which was developed by a pharmaceutical company called Medtronic, is durable and lasts a long time.

Chronic venous insufficiency is a serious health condition more common than coronary heart disease — that is undertreated and underdiagnosed. It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans are affected and a fraction of them seek treatment, Medtronic reports.

Symptoms include leg swelling and heaviness, fatigue and pain, discoloration of the skin, varicose veins and/or restless legs. It can also lead to shallow, non-healing wounds that take a long time to heal, as was Christensen's case.

She said a lot of people see varicose veins as a cosmetic, aesthetic issue, but if left untreated, they can get worse, and minor injuries can have major impacts.

Kim used the relatively new VenaSeal to glue two of Christensen's lower leg veins closed. He hopes to do the same to the veins in her other leg as soon as she can get back into the office. He said the technology is covered by Medicare and some other insurance plans.

"It is a superior method of treatment when compared to other treatment options that are currently available," Kim said, adding that doctors can help determine the best options available.

A small incision permits the product to be inserted into the vein where it essentially closes it off to any blood flow. Blood will then find new ways to circulate and not end up pooling and causing bigger problems.

It took only a couple days and Christensen was "good as new."

"I didn't realize how bad it was until I got better," she said. "It is so nice to be able to walk and not constantly be protecting it so nothing would bump it again and make it worse. I couldn't handle it getting worse."

For two years, Christensen dealt with the pain, not knowing VenaSeal was even an option, as she didn't even realize she had chronic venous insufficiency.

"As long as I can keep going, I'm good," she said, though, prior to the minimally invasive procedure, she was slowing down.

The horses are what kept her moving — not only because they needed to be cared for, but because she loves them. The animals she keeps, and the three sons she raised, are her life.

Christensen said her mother told her "since I was old enough to speak, I spoke horse."

She cleaned houses and babysat to earn enough money to buy her first horse when she was in the seventh grade. It was a $30 yearling Appaloosa filly.

Now there are 10, and they are all part of her family.

Family is a big deal to Christensen. She said she lives in the middle of nowhere because "where else can I go and have all my kids?"

"They're not spoiled or anything," she said, straightening the fly sheet on one of her registered American Paint horses. They used to be show horses and at least one of them is a world champion.

The horses are a lot of work. They need her.

"For such a big animal, they're so fragile. A lot can go wrong with them," Christensen said.

Her own legs had ached for a while, but she always figured it was because she walked all day, from dawn to dusk, on the farm or at work. But, that wasn't the case, and a quick fix made her life so much easier and more enjoyable.

Christensen encourages anyone with "bubbly veins," even minor ones, to "go get 'em checked out."

Kim and the VenaSeal changed her life — actually, gave it back. And, for someone who never expects to retire and wants to spend out her days with her horses, Christensen is once again right on track.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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Wendy Leonard

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