Happy Endings and Sore Memories
At 14 years old, Dylan looks down at her feet nervously. She is in the middle of giving a heavily graded book report to her classmates. Summer school is usually pretty relaxed, but, as a young teen with a severe case of stage fright, this very well could be her worst nightmare. To make matters worse, she has just forgotten what she was supposed to say next.
Before her partner has a chance to whisper the following line, she sees something peculiar on her leg. It’s a slight bulge right above her ankle bone, almost like something was swelling and pushing the skin outward. Dylan didn’t think much of it at the time, but the image was burned into her memory. This would mark the start of her 13-year-long journey with a painful and frustrating condition known as varicose veins.
A Brief Summary of Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are a medical condition that occurs when superficial veins — usually those in the legs and thighs — become twisted and enlarged. Their appearance is very recognizable; most people know someone who has varicose veins. According to Healthline, about 25 percent of all adults have some degree of this condition.
People with it often experience pain, swelling, heaviness and achiness near the problematic vein. There are many causes of varicose veins, such as family history, genetics, obesity, standing for long periods, menopause, pregnancy, and simply being over the age of 50. Luckily, there are also many treatments available to patients with the condition. Unlucky for Dylan, though, that no one close to her knew that treatment was an option.
Living Without Knowing
Throughout the rest of her high school career, Dylan did not pay much attention to the veins on her legs. “I didn’t really understand what they were, other than knowing they were something that my dad had, and I didn’t care about it cosmetically; I owned it.”
She says that because she knew little about the varicose veins, she did things that most people with the diagnosis would typically avoid — like being on her feet for long periods of time or confining her legs in tight spaces.
“[Varicose vein treatment] made Dylan way more confident in wearing shorts and dresses when we go out. Before she wouldn’t show her legs at all. There were multiple times when her leg would hurt so much that she couldn’t even walk. Now, she doesn’t have that pain.” — Paul, Dylan’s Boyfriend
Dylan even went to work for Disneyland in Anaheim right after her high school graduation in 2012. She would spend long hours on her feet at this job, an easy way to exacerbate a varicose vein diagnosis. But even as the veins continued to become more prominent, it wasn’t until they began hurting that she started to consider getting them checked out.
”Every year since 1999, I take a 17-hour drive with my dad to visit Butte, Montana, where my Grandma, Rita, lives. And every year, we stop at St. George. One year while we were taking our usual stop in St. George, I was carrying an old suitcase that my dad had since the 70s. It was one of those really old suitcases that didn’t have wheels or anything. I was walking up the stairs at the Comfort Inn, and it smacked my leg. It was the first time I had felt that pain,” she recalls with her notoriously good memory.
“It was an excruciating throbbing pain, taking over the entire area for more than a few long moments.” As Dylan tries to explain the sensation, she can’t help but let out several shudders and lose her train of thought. Dylan remembers having to explain the veins to her boyfriend, Paul, and teach him to avoid accidentally touching those areas on her legs. Even today, the pain has left lasting impressions.
A Not-So-Useful Visit
Despite the ache, Dylan still tried to tough out the condition, succumbing to the idea that this was something that, like her dad, she was just going to have to learn to live with. At this point, Dylan still had no idea that varicose veins are highly treatable — after all, no one around her had that information to share.
But the big shift would come in 2016, after taking a trip with Paul to New York and Boston. The journey included both a long flight and bus tour — two scenarios that caused her legs to be cramped for long periods with little opportunity to stretch them out. When she got home from the trip, she had a purple spot on her thigh and could not put weight on her leg.
Concerned, Dylan immediately called the nurse hotline that was on the back of her insurance card. After letting the nurse know that she had been sitting down for a long time during her trip, Dylan was advised to immediately go to the emergency room. As it turned out, Dylan had a blood clot in her leg, a severe development likely caused by her varicose veins that could lead to a fatal condition known as a pulmonary embolism.
Definition: pulmonary embolism — A condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot.
She was able to treat the blood clot without any serious condition developing, but this was ultimately the event that would lead her to finally have her legs checked out by a physician. She decided to make the appointment to verify that varicose veins were actually the condition she was dealing with. As she visited an ultrasound technician, she was instructed to lie down while it was performed.
After the consultation was finished, Dylan was told she only had varicose veins in one leg. While she had the diagnosis in the other leg, she did feel a little relieved that only one leg would need treatment. Unfortunately, at the time, the costs of the medical procedure were too high, and Dylan ultimately decided not to have any procedures performed.
A Second (and Better) Opinion
It was unfortunate that Dylan could not have the treatments performed, but in hindsight, it is not a regretful decision. If she had chosen to opt for any procedures, she might not ever have made her way to California Vein Specialists and Dr. Setareh. And if she had never made her way there, then she may never have realized that she was misdiagnosed after her first ultrasound.
When Dr. Setareh first saw Dylan, he decided to run his own test on both of her legs — this time, however, he had her remain standing during the process. To Dylan’s surprise, Dr. Setareh told her that she had varicose veins in both legs, not just one. He explained that when you lie down, the blood in your body flows differently. In this case, it caused the pressure in the legs that would be present when standing to come down, leading the initial physician to misdiagnose one of Dylan’s legs.
“I would always look at other people’s normal legs and ask myself, ‘I wonder what that is like?’” — Dylan Zeigler
From that point, Dylan felt confident in the expertise of California Vein Specialists, Dr. Setareh was happy to treat her after hearing her unusual story about how she began developing these veins at such a young age. “I was sympathetic to her because it was obvious that the veins were always in the back of her mind and that they were causing her not just physical pain but emotional stress as well,” Dr. Setareh says.
Sweet, Sweet Relief
It would take a few months for Dylan to decide to have treatment, but when she did, she has nothing but great memories about the entire process from start to finish. Surprisingly, one of her favorite things about the visit didn’t have to do with the medical care. “The first thing [California Vein Specialists] did was ask was what album I wanted on for music.”
Dr. Setareh believes that it is vital to make the patient feel comfortable — by any means necessary. In the pursuit of that endeavor, he is happy to pass the proverbial aux cord to all of his patients. “A happy patient is an easy patient. I let my patients choose music, and I like to talk about their interests during the procedure because it makes the entire process easier for them. I want everyone to feel like they have finally found somewhere they can trust. Our staff is key to that formula as well. Our team is really wonderful and so attentive that it surprises even me on a regular basis. I think patients get a sense of security when they know they are being looked after so closely,” says Dr. Setareh.
Naturally, Dylan says, she chose Abbey Road by The Beatles. “None of those songs were going to make me hurt more. If I were playing something like The White Stripes and something happened, I would be like, ‘man, this is intense.’ But Abbey Road is calming — I knew what to expect.”
Luckily, complications from varicose vein therapy are very rare, and, White Stripes or no White Stripes, the team at California Vein Specialists was able to successfully complete her procedure as Dylan gripped one of the many stress balls and rubber ducks that the office provides. She remembers specifically that her duck was green.
“This procedure has made a night and day difference in her life. Her self-esteem and confidence levels have soared. I have never seen her happier.” — Byron, Dylan’s Dad
“Dylan had endovenous thermal ablation of her great saphenous vein,” Dr. Setareh says. “It’s a non-surgical approach to remove troublesome and unsightly veins throughout the legs. It is performed using a small catheter to close off the vein inside our clinic. It only takes about 20 minutes to complete, and it’s done without the need for general anesthesia. You can even drive yourself to the procedure and go for a hike afterward if you wanted to.”
“They made it so comfortable,” Dylan says. “Everyone was so comforting and treated you like we were all friends. The experience would have been a lot worse without them.”
When the process began, she would have told you that she wasn’t affected by the aesthetic impacts it had. But after having the veins removed, Dylan is happier than ever before, even when it comes to her appearance. “I am out here living my best life. I never wore skirts or dresses or shorts. I just avoided it to avoid people seeing or having them bumped. I have a normal leg and nothing really compares to having that. I would always look at other people’s normal legs and ask myself, ‘I wonder what that is like?’”