Location: Greenville, MS
Gertrude Campbell is a trailblazer. She was the first African-American woman to work in her community post office, later becoming the first black Postmaster in Starkville, Mississippi. At the age 58 she wasn’t ready to stop, and soon began working at her local physical therapy clinic.
All of this changed in 2012 when she suddenly began feeling piercing pain in her left leg. Having been asymptomatic for years, Gertrude, like so many peripheral artery disease (PAD) patients before her, was feeling the abrupt and relentless pain of her disease. “When the pain hit me, it hit me hard,” she explained.
Despite her disease, Gertrude would go without a proper diagnosis for years. After her symptoms became apparent, doctors and other clinical professionals attributed the pain to her diabetes, which she had been diagnosed with in 2004. Never once in the three years after her symptoms arose did Gertrude hear anything about “PAD.”
The consequences of this misdiagnoses could not have been more severe. Given the lack of screening, diagnosis and proper treatment, Gertrude had her left leg amputated in 2015. After her amputation, she was put in a nursing home where the staff seemed indifferent to her incredibly unfortunate situation.
It was around this time Gertrude first met Dr. Foluso Fakorede outside of the hospital where she had been receiving treatment. After hearing about her situation, Dr. Fakorede, a practicing cardiologist, handed her his card, “before you let them amputate your other leg, call me” he said before departing for an appointment. Three years later when Gertrude began feeling pain in her right leg, she did just that.
Unfortunately, when she came to see Dr. Fakorede, the PAD in her remaining leg had already progressed too far. In 2018 Gertrude’s right leg was amputated. Her severe PAD had finally been diagnosed, but it was simply too late.
Gertrude’s story, while tragic, is also sadly common. PAD and the many risk factors associated with it disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities at a far higher rate than white communities. Rates of amputation due to a lack of treatment and proper diagnosis are much more prevalent in minority communities, particularly in the rural south.
Today, despite both amputations, Gertrude is living at her best. She is almost 77 years old, remains optimistic, and is eager to spread awareness so that her experience will never be repeated for other patients in similar circumstances.
“My fear is that people like me are still being treated the same way I was treated. We need to raise awareness of PAD, a lot of people in my community don’t know about it, and that needs to change” she said.