Case Report

Treatment of Critical Hand Ischemia via Orbital Atherectomy and Balloon Angioplasty in an African-American Hemodialysis Patient

Abdul Bahro1, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Connie Williams2, AGACNP-BC, Zsuzsanna Igyarto3, PhD, Brad J. Martinsen4, PhD

Abdul Bahro1, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Connie Williams2, AGACNP-BC, Zsuzsanna Igyarto3, PhD, Brad J. Martinsen4, PhD

Compared to critical limb ischemia (CLI), there is a dearth of published literature on critical hand ischemia (CHI), despite the similar high risk of amputation. CHI can be caused by acute vascular injury, chronic vasospastic disease, or occlusive arterial disease of the above- or below-the-elbow (BTE) arteries.1 Diabetics and/or patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on hemodialysis are at higher risk of severe BTE artery disease, especially radial artery calcification.2–5

Calcified lesions are challenging to treat, as they are difficult to completely dilate and prone to dissection during balloon angioplasty.6–8 In a few case reports, balloon angioplasty was used successfully to treat occluded or calcified radial arteries9–11; however, preparation of complex calcified lesions before balloon angioplasty with atherectomy should be the first-line therapy, as it has been shown in CLI studies that it makes the balloon delivery easier and outcomes are improved.8,12 Atherectomy devices in the upper extremity arteries are not commonly used due to the small vessel size. The Diamondback 360° Peripheral Orbital Atherectomy System (Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. [CSI]) is an atherectomy device that can access treatment areas with a reference vessel diameter of <2.0 mm.13

In this report, we present the case of an African-American hemodialysis patient with CHI due to a calcified radial artery who was treated with orbital atherectomy and balloon angioplasty, and underwent follow-up at six weeks post procedure.

Case Report

A 69-year-old African-American gentleman with a past medical history of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis, and and bilateral above-knee amputation was referred from his dialysis center for resting ischemia to his left hand. He had a dialysis fistula to the left upper arm and developed severe pain, discoloration, and necrotic areas to the tips of his fingers. He was previously admitted to another local hospital for 12 days and treated with anticoagulation with no improvement, then discharged home. His pain progressively worsened and the necrotic areas were increasing in size. The pain was so severe he was unable to move his fingers (Figure 1). He was then referred to our facility at Merit Health Central, in Jackson, Mississippi. Review of the left upper extremity arterial Doppler study showed severe peripheral arterial disease. The diagnostic angiogram revealed severe disease in the proximal and mid left radial artery, with an occluded segment just proximal to the wrist, along with an occluded ulnar artery distally above the wrist (Figure 2). The recommendation was to proceed with endovascular intervention of the left radial artery.

The right groin was prepped and draped in the usual fashion. Lidocaine 1% was used for local anesthesia. A 5 French (Fr) sheath was used to cannulate the right femoral artery.  A 5 Fr Berenstein catheter (Merit Medical) and an Advantage wire (Terumo) were used to advance the catheter into the proximal brachial artery. Selective angiography was then performed. To perform a BTE angiogram, a long NaviCross catheter (Terumo) was advanced over the Advantage wire to the distal brachial artery. A long 6 Fr Destination sheath (Terumo) was advanced to the mid brachial artery. Heparin and tirofiban (Aggrastat) were given intravenously. Using a ChoICE PT guidewire (Boston Scientific) and a Seeker catheter (BD), the occluded segment in the distal radial artery was crossed, then the wire was exchanged to a ViperWire (CSI), after 1 mg of verapamil was given through the Seeker catheter. Orbital atherectomy was performed using 1.25 Solid Crown (CSI) (Figure 3), followed by balloon angioplasty using 2.0 x 40 mm balloon in the distal segment of the radial artery. A 2.5 x 150 mm balloon was utilized in the proximal and mid portion of the vessel. Each balloon was inflated between 4-6 atmospheres for 2-3 minutes (Figure 4). The final angiogram revealed excellent results.

The day after the procedure, the patient was already able to move his fingers without severe pain. Color had returned to his fingertips. He was extremely pleased with the results and was discharged home (Videos 1-2).

The patient returned to the clinic six weeks after the procedure for his follow-up appointment. The ischemic ulcerations had completely healed (Figure 5). His pain had resolved, allowing full mobility of his hand again. Coloration had returned to normal (Figure 5).


CHI, although less common than CLI, is a serious condition with a high risk of amputation, especially in patients with diabetes and ESRD.2,14 Previous studies have shown that diabetes and ESRD are the two most common risk factors of radial artery calcification.5 The African-American patient presented herein is a prime example of CHI — the presentation of his severely calcified radial artery and occluded ulnar artery along with his medical history of hypertension and hyperlipidemia is similar to the 11 patients in our previous below-the-elbow (BTE) atherectomy study.15 In that study, 100% of patients had hypertension, 73% were African-American, and greater than 80% had diabetes and ESRD. Similar to the case herein, all study patients were treated with orbital atherectomy, resulting in good blood flow to the hand after intervention, with no complications during or immediately after the procedure.

In a recently published mini-review13, we examined and discussed articles published over the past decade regarding the endovascular treatment of BTE arteries in CHI. We found that the endovascular treatment of BTE arteries is rarely described in the literature, and most are case reports or single-center retrospective studies of less than 40 patients. The main treatment mode in these limited studies was balloon angioplasty (uncoated or drug-coated) with or without stenting. Immediate pain relief, wound healing, and a high rate of technical success were reported in these studies, along with no procedure-related complications. Patients were asymptomatic up to two years in select cases with drug-coated balloons16,17; however, we argue that severely calcified lesions need to be prepared or modified with atherectomy before balloon angioplasty. As previously stated, balloon angioplasty has limitations, particularly in complex, calcified lesions, that can result in recoil, dissection, and restenosis. For example, in CLI patients, Janas et al18 found that bailout stenting due to flow-limiting dissection was required more often in the balloon angioplasty group compared to the atherectomy group. More importantly, atherectomy was associated with a lower risk of target lesion revascularization in CLI patients.18

Similar advantages of atherectomy use for treating severely calcified lesions in CHI patients have also been reported; however, only three single-center studies and three case reports are available regarding the use of atherectomy prior to balloon angioplasty.13 We add to this information by reporting the use of orbital atherectomy and balloon angioplasty in an African-American hemodialysis patient for the treatment of a complex, severely calcified radial artery lesion. Excellent angiographic outcomes with no complications resulted in resolution of the patient’s pain with improved mobility and coloration of his fingers. At the 6-week follow-up, the ischemic ulcerations had completely healed.  The utilization of orbital atherectomy and balloon angioplasty in this complex case prevented an amputation.


Current data provides a signal that orbital atherectomy treatment of calcified radial arteries is feasible and safe. Obtaining good outflow to the fingers is critical for wound healing and preventing amputation in complex CHI patients. Randomized trials are warranted to further the knowledge of optimal CHI treatment. 

1Director of the Interventional Catheterization Laboratory, Chief of Cardiovascular Services of CHS Hospitals in Mississippi, Merit Health Central, Jackson, Mississippi; 2Interventional Cardiology Nurse Practitioner, Merit Health Central, Jackson, Mississippi; 3Sr. Scientific Affairs Associate, Cardiovascular Systems, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota; 4Director of Scientific Affairs, Cardiovascular Systems, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota

Disclosures: Dr. Bahro reports he is a consultant to Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. Connie Williams reports no conflicts of interest regarding the content herein. Dr. Igyarto and Dr. Martinsen own stock in and are employed by Cardiovascular Systems, Inc.

The authors can be contacted via Abdul Bahro, MD, FACC, FSCAI, at

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