By Lee Edwards, Chicago Crusader
Dr. Jaafer Golzar leads a team of Advocate Trinity Hospital doctors responsible for saving over 120 patients from amputations of major lower extremities since 2014. He specializes in Interventional Cardiology along with “minimally invasive techniques to treat peripheral arterial disease, amputation prevention, carotid arterial disease and complex coronary artery disease.”
Golzar’s team takes a multidisciplinary approach that utilizes vascular surgery, interventional cardiology, radiology, and podiatry. One of the team’s primary goals is to reduce the likelihood of their patients receiving a major leg amputation. Major leg amputations are considered to occur around the knee area.
The main causes of limb loss are vascular disease, including diabetes and peripheral arterial disease (54%), trauma (45%), and cancer, less than 2%. Diabetes rates vary by race, ethnicity, and age; African Americans and Native Americans are at the top of the list.
Statistics show that nearly half of the individuals who have an amputation due to vascular disease will die within five years, and of people with diabetes who have a lower extremity amputation, up to 55% will require amputation of the second leg within two to three years.
Golzar said one of the leading causes for the high percentage of amputations is based on the culture of the hospital, which leans to that form of treatment first.
The Arkansas native, who has been practicing medicine for over 20 years, said one of the concerns African Americans in Chicago face is that their neighborhood hospitals are too small to house essential medical equipment.
“When you look at Roseland, South Shore, and some of the other hospitals, they don’t have the capabilities to do what we’re doing,” said Golzar, referring to equipment availability and medical practices at Advocate Trinity, which is located in the Calumet Heights community on Chicago’s far South side.
Chicago’s African American population is disproportionately at-risk for major amputations.
According to a May, 2008 report released by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, African Americans residing on Chicago’s South Side and West Side are five times more likely to have a lower limb amputation compared to people living in predominantly white suburbs. The study examined racial disparities in amputations to lower limb extremities in northern Illinois from 1987-2004.
Joe Feinglass, research professor of medicine at Feinberg School of Medicine who co-authored the study, explained that the number of amputations is preventable with better primary care. He insisted the health care disparity in the African American community plays a significant role in these findings.
Auburn Gresham resident Michelle Johnson-Evans knows intimately how impactful Dr. Golzar and his team’s treatments can be. Johnson-Evans’ husband, Gregory Evans, 59, has been the beneficiary of multiple leg stent surgeries by the team in both of his legs, which have allowed him to stave off major above the knee amputations.
Evan’s history of ailments is extensive. He’s had quadruple bypass surgery, multiple strokes, foot sores, diabetes, aphasia, and peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to Johnson-Evans. Johnson’s PAD, which has narrowed the peripheral arteries to his legs, will always require consistent medical attention.
Evan’s formerly received his health care coverage from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois before losing that coverage because Johnson-Evans wanted her husband to be treated by Golzar at a non-network hospital. He is now being covered through Medicare.
“I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t been referred to Dr. Golzar,” said Johnson-Evans. “I know both of his legs would’ve probably been amputated by now.”
Paying for an amputation is an expensive proposition for the patient. For those with a lower limb amputation the two-year health costs, including the initial hospitalization, in-patient rehabilitation, outpatient physical therapy, and purchase and maintenance of a prosthetic device is estimated around $90,000. The lifetime healthcare costs for a lower limb amputation is more than $500,000.
Before falling ill, Evans worked for Fox Lumber for 20 years, among other jobs.
Despite his various health setbacks, he has remained steadfast in his desire to maintain an active and mobile lifestyle. He is able to walk with the assistance of walkers and canes.
“He’s great, he’s doing very, very, well,” said Johnson-Evans. “He helps me as much as he can around the house and so his life is very good.”
Johnson-Evans believes that most African Americans are “absolutely not” receiving the same health care options her husband has. She credits the approach of Golzar and the team of doctors. She shared that part of Golzar’s treatment is to use pictures to illustrate to the patient and his/her loved ones what his/her ailments are, what his diagnosis is, and how he intends to proceed.
“Dr. Golzar sees his patients as people and not as a number on a chart,” said Johnson-Evans, who referred her own mother, and others, to Golzar. “He’s truly the best.”