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About 15 years ago, Steve Hamburger learned he had peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition when arteries that carry blood from the heart to arms or legs narrow. Like many others with PAD, it impacted his lower body, causing pain in his right leg and foot that woke him at night.
“I’d have to put my feet over the bed, which is kind of a common remedy for the pain for rest at night,” Hamburger, 78, of Westlake Village, California, told TODAY. “I had pretty severe lack of circulation in my right leg.”While he first thought he might need bypass surgery, a doctor told him that if he started walking, he could greatly improve his quality of life. So he put one foot in front of the other to see if it would help. As an active member of Start TODAY, he’s been sharing info about walking and PAD to help others who might have the condition.
“I’m an example of how walking, exercise and diet, as well as a sleep regimen, has prevented me from having a surgical intervention,” he said.
Unusual pains lead to a PAD diagnosis
In addition to the pain he felt nightly, Hamburger noticed he struggled to walk in airports. Those symptoms combined led him to see a doctor. A test revealed that he had a complete blockage in the main artery in his right leg. A doctor suggested that he undergo bypass surgery.
“The recommendation from the vascular surgeon at that time was that we should do a bypass on my right leg, and I asked how long that might last,” Hamburger said. “The response was (I'd need surgery every) three to five years. … That wasn’t a good answer for me.”
He visited a second doctor who recommended that Hamburger start walking to treat his PAD. So he did. At first, he struggled to go very far and continued feeling pain in his legs.
“I built it up,” he said. “I continued to increase the distance that I was walking until I was able to go a couple of miles a day.”
He can now walk longer distances without stopping, even though his feet sometimes feel heavy.
“It’s a different condition that has to do with arthritis and my lower back,” he said. “The PAD, that’s not slowing me down. I no longer have pain.”
Hamburger also had Type 2 diabetes, and walking and making dietary changes helped him manage that condition, too.
“Walking, any form of exercise, is going to help with your Type 2 diabetic situation,” he said.
Like many people, Hamburger tries to get 10,000 steps a day, but he feels like he’s met his goal if he takes 7,500 steps.
What is PAD?
According to Mayo Clinic, PAD is a type of atherosclerosis — a condition where fats and cholesterol turn into plaques and build up along the artery walls, which can block blood flow or lead to blood clots. Symptoms include:
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Pain in the legs or hips while walking
- Pain that subsides with rest
PAD often goes undiagnosed, per the American Heart Association. Untreated PAD can lead to loss of a leg, stroke and heart attack.
Those at risk include:
- People older than 65
- People with high blood pressure
- People who smoke
- People with Type 2 diabetes
The organization said that lifestyle management and medication can often treat PAD.
Spreading the word
Since his diagnosis with PAD, Hamburger has become a patient advocate. He started a Facebook support group for people with the condition, and he posts regularly on Start TODAY. He believes that Start TODAY can offer others with PAD ways to manage their condition with diet and exercise.
“I really believe it’s the perfect support group for those with PAD,” he said. “It’s 24/7 support for walking, exercise and diet. Even just most recently, Stephanie (Mansour) did a piece on stretching. … All of those are things that a person with PAD needs to be doing.”
Most days, Hamburger walks with his best friend, Buddy, a golden retriever, and he tries to offer hope and support to those who have PAD and want to reverse it with diet and exercise.
“It’s easier to advise surgical interventions than it is to necessarily advise and (provide) support for walking, exercise and diet,” he said. “You need ongoing support for that.”