The ping of an aluminum bat against a baseball punctuates the night air, floating above the cheers of the crowd and the calls of the umpire.
Outside the ball field, nine-year-old Jake Richards and his father Richard have staked out a place for a game of catch.
Fathers and sons trading fastballs is a common sight on warm nights across the Midlands and the nation, of course.
But this ritual game of catch reaches beyond the ordinary for 60-year-old Richard, who could barely stand or walk without searing pain in his leg this time last year. Today he's a new man because of a revolutionary laser technique that he underwent at Providence Heart Institute.
Richard didn't know why his leg hurt so much last summer whenever he was doing anything physical.
"I'd work maybe five, 10 minutes, and it hurt so much I couldn't even move," he says. "It was bad. I had to sit down. I didn't know what was wrong."
When the pain persisted, Richard made an appointment to see cardiologist Dr. Richard E. Umbach. That's when Richard found out he had peripheral artery disease, or PAD. The condition develops when arteries in the legs become blocked by plaque, or fat buildup, inside the artery walls. One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 suffers from PAD.
Significantly, Richard's artery was 100 percent clogged, dangerously limiting blood flow to his leg. If left untreated, PAD can cause its victims to lose a limb.
Dr. Umbach referred Richard to his colleague, fellow cardiologist Dr. Robert M. Malanuk, for a procedure using new laser technology to unblock the clogged artery. Dr. Malanuk is the only doctor in the Midlands using the technique, and it's performed only at Providence.
Dr. Malanuk used a cool laser catheter inserted in Richard's artery to literally vaporize the plaque. The tiny beam of ultraviolet light blasts the plaque into tiny particles that are easily absorbed into the blood stream. Although cardiologists have used cool lasers for some time in arteries around the heart, they have only recently been modified for use in larger arteries in the legs, arms or neck.
"The plaques that are most often approached with a laser catheter are really resistant to our other tools, such as stents or balloon catheters," Dr. Malanuk says. "We're trying to connect the dots from one healthy side of the blockage to the other healthy side by literally blasting through the plaque."
Dr. Malanuk says that Richard was fortunate he sought treatment early enough.
"It's like having a heart attack in your leg," says Dr. Malanuk. "Peripheral artery disease has the same causes as coronary artery disease. Diabetes is a big one, along with smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and family history."
PAD symptoms most often include burning in the legs, pain when walking, a wound that won't heal, and discoloration in the feet or toes.
"The most common symptom I see is burning in the calf muscles," Dr. Malanuk says. "It may go away when they rest, but then it comes back again."
For Richard, the pain disappeared immediately after the laser procedure.
"I spent one night in the hospital, and I went home the next morning," he says. "It was like I had my old life back. I felt like I did 15 or 20 years ago."