PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Nearly 20 million adults in the United States have something called peripheral artery disease.

It can be painful and treating it hasn’t been easy – until now.

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Some local doctors are the first in the area to use groundbreaking technology to treat it.

“I looked down one day in the shower and my foot was entirely black,” Kyle Leibach said.

Leibach has Type 1 diabetes, complicated by peripheral artery disease. He had an infection in his foot, but the antibiotics couldn’t get there.

“When I was in the office, they did confirm there was like no blood at all going to my feet. So, it was a miracle I lasted that long,” Leibach said.

Peripheral artery disease comes from buildup and blocked flow in the vessels that take blood from the heart to the legs and feet. People with this can have pain in the calves with walking that causes them to sit and rest.

The typical treatment has been with surgery to bypass the blockages, which involves a period of recovery, or with catheters to clear the buildup under X-ray guidance, with re-blockage in almost half the cases.

Now, there’s a new tool the FDA approved in March. It is helping doctors see inside the vessel. A light fiber goes in and with infrared light, doctors can see the normal and abnormal areas of the artery, like layers of an onion.

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“We can identify the blockages, we can identify areas of normal artery wall, that previously we had no ability to see,” Dr. Bart Chess, of Allegheny General Hospital Vascular Surgery, said. “We can actually see the obstruction, or the blockage, and guide our catheter to simply extract, or cut out that area.”

By treating only the blocked areas, and avoiding normal areas, there is less inflammation. In studies, at six months, there is only 8 to 10 percent recurrence.

“It’s an eye-opener because we can actually see, whereas before, we could never see. It’s simply like walking around in your home in the dark, and someone all of a sudden turns the lights on,” Dr. Chess said.

Two months ago, Leibach was actually the first patient to be treated with the new instrument.

“I went home like an hour later,” Leibach said. “There was a very small pinhole on my opposite thigh, and I was able to be up the next day, and they gave me a prescription for narcotics. I never used one of them.”

His foot is almost better.

“I didn’t know how big of a deal it was, but I was happy,” he said.

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