Healthy veins are doctor’s top priority

Dr. Michael Vasquez has no problem advising would-be Duke University students interested in subjects beyond science to get creative if they’re accepted into the top-notch school.

After all, that’s what the Williamsville native did.

Vasquez graduated from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in religion – along with all of the pre-med courses he needed to get into the University at Buffalo School of Medicine. Nearly three decades later, he serves as an alumni interviewer for Western New Yorkers who apply to his North Carolina alma mater.

“I was interested in religion, I was interested in the humanities,” said Vasquez, 50, who now lives in East Amherst. “It gave me a whole skills set in terms of being able to read and write critically.”

He also took public speaking and public policy classes, along with a leadership program that allowed him to meet then-Gov. John H. Sununu of New Hampshire, journalist Cokie Roberts, and members of the civil rights movement’s Freedom Riders.

He and other alums in the region get together annually with those accepted to the school. It’s a group that includes fellow doctors, as well as lawyers, a CPA, a leading Moog engineer and UB basketball coach Bobby Hurley, who led Duke to two NCAA men’s basketball championships as a point guard in the early 1990s.

Vasquez is a general surgeon who founded and operates the Venous Institute of Buffalo, which sits on the DeGraff Memorial Hospital campus in North Tonawanda. He also is a clinical assistant professor at UB Medical School.

He followed his father, now-retired Dr. Anibal Vasquez, into the medical field, and is in the midst of clinical trials that include a new procedure used to shut down varicose veins.

Did you know at Duke that you wanted to be a doctor?

I knew as a child. I went with my father to (St. Joseph’s) hospital when I was young and I remember watching him work in the emergency room sewing up a laceration. I was just awestruck. Summers, he helped me get positions to do local research and get into hospitals to get experience, and that experience made a big difference. I used to draw blood at Roswell and I did research there.

Why did you choose vein health as you went along?

Early on in my career, I was the junior guy and there were no good, easy vein procedures. As the junior guy, nobody wanted to see the vein patients, so they would send them all to me. But that happened at a time when new procedures were starting to become available, so if three other surgeons were going to send patients to me, I was determined to find something better than conventional vein stripping. It’s a morbid procedure. It’s incisions, it’s hospitalizations, post-operative recovery. So when these new procedures began and I saw that I could improve symptoms and heal ulcers, I embraced it.

Talk about venous insufficiency.

The problem is that blood in the veins is supposed to be leaving the legs, and it usually does. But with varicose veins or venous insufficiency, a certain percentage of it falls back down through faulty valves. It’s the falling down that leads to the pressure that builds in the leg. Then the pressure manifests as bulging veins or heavy legs, swollen legs, itching, burning legs, ulceration. If you can close the veins that are allowing the pressure to build, you can alleviate symptoms, not to mention improve cosmetic appearance.

Who tends to deal most often with vein conditions?

The demographic is generally 35- to 65-year-olds, predominantly women. It’s about a 60/40 split, women and men. I see barbers, hairdressers, guys who work on the line a lot, those who have standing jobs, especially standing and not moving. Blood gets out of our legs every time we walk and step. We squeeze the muscles in the leg and it squeezes the veins and the blood goes out, but it doesn’t go back down because of the valves. But people who are just standing aren’t engaging their muscle pump.

What are the three most common treatments you perform?

We close the diseased vein that’s allowing blood to flow down, but blood still gets out of the leg through the deep vein system (further below the skin). There’s the closure procedure, a catheter procedure where the vein is closed by heating. There’s a phlebectomy: Those are small incisions to remove a vein. Then there’s a new procedure, an injectable microfoam which is called the Varithena procedure. I was fortunate to be one of the principal investigators for the clinical trial. It was proven to be safe and effective, and the best tolerated of all the procedures because there are fewer needle sticks. It’s very effective.

The new procedure right now, though it’s available, it’s not reimbursed yet by insurance companies. I can offer it to some people as part of the clinical trial but it has to get its own insurance code before (it’s more widely available and) people know what to pay. I’m in the process of meeting with insurance companies and teaching them about the procedure so that I can make it available for more patients. I did that for the closure procedure in 2001 and 2002.

If people are interested in becoming part of a trial, they can contact us (at 690-2691 or venousinstitute.com).

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