Open Dialogue

“Like Night and Day:” A Patient’s Story of Regaining Pain-Free Mobility through Lower-Leg Angioplasty

Sixty-four-year-old diabetic Charles Hykawy underwent a new angioplasty procedure to his lower legs at Sunnybrook. He tells the CAHO Catalyst how this day surgery stopped the crippling pain, restored circulation to his legs and improved his quality of life.

Patients with foot ulcers and poor circulation related to diabetes complications, which can lead to amputation, now have a promising new option: Dr. Papia and his colleague Dr. Dueck at the Schulich Heart Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have combined angioplasty techniques with plastic surgery concepts to restore blood flow to extremities below the knee.

With this new procedure, patients experience near-instant improvement: Once blood flow is restored, they can go home the same day.

Charles Hykawy, a 64-year-old patient with diabetes, was experiencing tremendous pain in his lower legs related to circulatory problems. With a physically demanding job doing home repairs in Pickering, Ontario, he was suffering. Papia treated both of Hykawy’s legs, separately, with the new procedure.

Hykawy sat down with the Catalyst to chat about what a profound difference this new surgery made in his life.

Charles Hykawy cropped
Sunnybrook Patient Charles Hykawy. Photography by Tim Fraser,

You have a history of diabetes and circulatory issues. Tell me, specifically, what led up to this new procedure: angioplasty for the lower limbs. What was your life like prior to the procedure?

It was getting so bad I couldn’t walk anymore. My legs were cramping up like crazy. At night time, I would get very bad leg spasms. The pain was just excruciating. I just couldn’t live with that.

It really affected me when walking. If I were going to Home Depot to pick up some supplies, I would have to stop about half way through my walk, and let the pain subside in my leg. I could walk maybe about 100 feet, then the back of my calves would cramp up so badly that I would have to stop. I couldn’t move anymore. The pain was like someone was putting a vice on the back of your calves, and squeezing and squeezing.

This had been going on for about two or three years.

Walk us through your journey at Sunnybrook, and how you arrived there.

First, I went to see my family doctor. I said to her: You have to do something. She said she would set me up with a really good doctor: Dr. Papia at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr Giuseppe Papia
Dr. Giuseppe Papia, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Photograph courtesy of Sunnybrook.

Dr. Papia did all sorts of tests first of all. He did a Doppler ultrasound to examine the blood flow in the major arteries and veins of the legs. Blood pressure cuffs were put on my legs and they squeezed my legs to see, to measure, the blood flow. From that, Dr. Papia was able to tell that I had quite a bit of blockage in my legs.

So he did angioplasty on my legs ‒ first he did the right leg and, two months later, he did the left leg.

Could you describe the procedure from a patient’s perspective?

The procedure itself wasn’t that bad at all. It’s an hour to an hour and a half. Although it was a little bit painful when they were doing it ‒ and you’re awake when they’re doing the procedure ‒ it was well worth the pain because afterword I felt so much better.

Because they go into your groin, they want to make sure that the bleeding has stopped, so they monitor you for about four or five hours after the surgery, during which time you recoup. They also make you walk up and down the halls to be sure you can walk. Then they let you go home.

What was it like taking the first few steps after the procedure?

You feel a little bit woozy when you first get up because you haven’t been moving for seven or eight hours. But it’s not that bad at all – a little bit wobbly. I guess everybody’s different, but that’s what I experienced. There’s a little bit of pain but by the next day, it’s gone.

At first you have to take it easy. They don’t want you to do any lifting because it could rupture that spot that’s trying to heal.

What kind of a difference did this procedure make in your quality of life, your pain level?

It’s just like night and day. It’s great now. This procedure really helped. I don’t get much pain at all now. I can go walk up to Home Depot no problem, pick up all my supplies, take them home and start working.

What are your impressions of Dr. Papia and the team at Sunnybrook?

They are very good. Dr. Papia is an expert. He takes his time to talk to you; he really wants to know how you’re doing. He’s a caring doctor. You’re not in and out and away you go. The quality of care at Sunnybrook was great.

I’m happy to share my story. This procedure helped me, and I’m sure Dr. Papia could help others with the same problem that I had. As I said, it’s like night and day.

To read the Catalyst article on this surgery by Dr. Papia, go here: