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Medicine's Glass Slipper: The PAVAEX Boot and 20th Century Negative Pressure Therapy.

American Surgeon 2024 June 4
Before the 20th century, peripheral artery disease (PAD) manifested as extreme pain, chronic wounds, and, eventually, gangrene requiring amputation. Despite this, it was rarely diagnosed. However, at the turn of the century, Western medicine shifted focus from infectious to chronic illnesses, and with this change, physicians' engagement with PAD transformed. Aiming to mitigate long-term injury, physicians now worked to identify and treat vessel disease to restore meaningful blood circulation. This article explores the development and deployment of a new device resulting from this refocus, the PAssive VAscular EXerciser (PAVAEX) Boot, and its role as a creative response to a previously intractable clinical problem. The PAVAEX Boot, designed in 1933 by vascular surgeons Louis G. Herrmann and Mont R. Reid, was one of the few interventions for PAD at the time. Based on the observation that continuous negative pressure results in vasoconstriction, while short bursts transiently increase blood flow, the PAVAEX Boot utilized intermittent negative pressure to enhance peripheral vascular perfusion. Well-marketed and praised throughout the 1930s, it vanished from public writing and academic literature just 20 years later. However, negative pressure wound therapy resurged in the late 20th century, and though its inventors failed to recognize the precedent of the PAVAEX Boot, many of these devices and therapies are rooted in identical theories. We examine why the PAVAEX Boot faded from use and argue that the device remains a crucial advancement in negative pressure therapy.

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