“I’m back to exercising the way I used to. My wife and I are back to going on walks, going to dinners, socializing with family and friends, and traveling.”
While on a walk with his wife, Jack, an active 82-year-old retired lawyer living in Manhattan, experienced something unusual: a gray cloud began to obscure vision in his left eye. A primary care physician told Jack to go directly to the emergency room, but the grey film suddenly disappeared as he walked to the hospital. In the ER, doctors ran tests to see what caused the temporary vision impairment.
An ultrasound showed that a blocked carotid artery, known as carotid stenosis, was the cause of Jack’s strange symptoms. Carotid stenosis is related to the carotid arteries located on both sides of the neck. When the pathway that leads to the brain is blocked or narrowed by plaque, pieces of plaque can spontaneously break off, which can lead to retinal hypoxia, thus the temporary loss of vision. His right carotid artery was almost completely blocked and would have to be surgically cleared.
Right away, Jack made an appointment with Dr. Jared Knopman, director of cerebrovascular surgery and interventional neuroradiology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“Symptoms like this may resolve, but if they’re left ignored, they can lead to a significant subsequent stroke,” says Knopman.
Jack was shocked by the diagnosis.
“I was stunned,” recalls Jack. “I’d been diligent in watching my diet, and every annual test showed my cholesterol levels to be in the normal range.
However, it seemed that despite Jack’s good health, genetics may not have been in his favor. Jack explained that his father underwent a balloon angioplasty in 1985 for similar health problems.
“There are a couple of surgical techniques that can treat carotid occlusion,” says Dr. Knopman. “Balloon angioplasties and stents, like Jack’s father had, are one option — and rest assured that technology has come a long way since 1985,” explains Dr. Knopman.
Because of the nature of Jack’s carotid artery, along with a recommendation by Dr. Saad Abdul Ami Mir, Assistant Professor in Clinical Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College and Assistant Attending Neurologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Knopman performed a carotid endarterectomy.
During the endarterectomy, the surgeon makes a small incision in the neck to open the artery, removes the blockage, and reconstructs the artery walls.
Jack went home the day after surgery and followed his doctor’s orders to avoid strenuous exercise but was still able to enjoy nights out to dinner and walks in the neighborhood. On a routine follow-up six months later, Dr. Knopman showed Jack a clean sonogram of his carotid artery. “It was good news,” Jack says. “I’m back to exercising the way I used to. My wife and I are back to socializing with family and friends and traveling.”