Saving Limbs and Toes From the Grip of Diabetes With Clinic’s New Approach

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Last year, Diane Sammons went to see her doctor about an ulcer on her left heel. The doctor took one look at the infected wound and called 911.

On the ambulance ride over to the emergency room at UCSF Medical Center, she realized that she might lose her foot. “I used to be very athletic, so this was overwhelming,” said Sammons, a retired pediatric nurse who was used to long hours on her feet and had been an avid tennis player.

But like many people with diabetes, which can cause nerve damage, Sammons hadn’t noticed the ulcer on her foot until it had become badly infected.

The loss of a toe or limb to diabetes is more common than many people realize – and it’s a tragic outcome that UC San Francisco’s Limb Preservation and Diabetic Foot Center is working to prevent.

In 2016, more than 12,000 Californians underwent diabetes-related amputations. The problem may start with a blister on the foot that goes unnoticed and untreated because people with diabetes often lose feeling in peripheral nerves. These small injuries can become infected when, as is often the case, the diabetes is accompanied by poor circulation in the limbs.

The more time that passes for diabetic patients with an ulcerated or infected foot, the more tissue they lose, and the more likely they are to face the possibility of a major amputation. That’s why the byword among staff at UCSF’s Limb Preservation and Diabetic Foot Center is “time is tissue.”

In the last few years, the limb preservation program at UCSF has shown that many diabetes-related amputations can be avoided with a new approach to treatment. They’ve saved many toes and limbs – including Sammon’s feet – from the grip of diabetes.

“Most people with diabetes are less afraid of dying than they are of losing their leg,” says Alex …

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