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Pathology

Robert R. Cawley, D.O.

Dover, NH 03802

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12/26/2018

Giving Back After Life-Saving Vascular Surgery

“I was that guy,” recalls Leo Alie, who had felt a bit of pain inside his left thigh when he was down on his hands and knees, tiling his mother’s kitchen floor in September 2016. “I let it go.”

After three very uncomfortable days, Alie went to his doctor’s office with a foot so swollen, they couldn’t find a pulse in it. The doctor sent him straight to the Wentworth-Douglass Emergency Department (ED), where he learned that a congenital heart defect had saved his life. “The tests showed that I had a blood clot in my left thigh—a piece had broken off and jumped through the hole in my heart that I didn’t even know I had,” he explains. “Instead of going to my head, the clot went through the right artery to my right leg and shut off blood to my foot.”

In the ED, Alie met Dr. James Estes, Director of Vascular Surgery & Cardiovascular Services. “He was really wonderful,” recalls Alie. “I had never faced anything life-threatening. My mind was racing in all kinds of directions when I first met him. I’m an educated person but I had no idea what all of these medical terms meant. He broke everything down and explained it in my language. He was very calming and very thorough.”

Alie, 66, immediately underwent a surgical thrombectomy to remove the clot. “I can’t say enough about the people at the ED. Everything was moving, moving, moving.”

After his recovery, the team made arrangements for Alie to have a device called a septal occluder inserted into the heart to stop the flow through the hole. The surgery took place at Wentworth-Douglass partner Massachusetts General Hospital. “The transition from my leg to my heart surgery was so smooth,” says Alie. “I was amazed at the professionalism of the doctors and the nurses—and the interest they took in me as a patient.”

After the January 2017 heart surgery, Alie, one of the owners of Alie Jewelers in Dover and Portsmouth, was sidelined from his normal physical activities. “I wasn’t allowed to play basketball, ride my bike, ski,” he says. “We had to make sure the device was doing its thing, that the heart would grow around it.”

What the doctor did prescribe was two, 30-minute walks every day. “Every day around 1:30 and in the evening after supper, I walk,” says Alie. “I vowed to myself that from this point on, because of the hole in my heart and how lucky I was that it didn’t go to my head, that I was going to be a much better patient than I had ever been. I look forward to my little jaunts outside even in the January cold. It keeps the blood rolling.”

One year later in January 2018, Alie was cleared to return to all of his usual activities. He frequently thinks about his experience at Wentworth-Douglass. And, to show his gratitude, he donates jewelry for fundraising raffles and also contributes financially. “We’re extremely fortunate to have this kind of hospital right here in our backyard,” he concludes. “We’re not rich people, but at the same time, we give what we can. Dr. Estes saved my life. I really, really, really appreciate him and Wentworth-Douglass for being there for me. I can’t say enough good things.”