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A barber's advice: Check out your legs

Jon Amyx, a Downtown Lawrence barber for more than 40 years, sought laser endovenous treatment for his varicose veins. The treatment was a success, and he encourages others to consult a doctor about various treatment options.

Jon Amyx, a Downtown Lawrence barber for more than 40 years, sought laser endovenous treatment for his varicose veins. The treatment was a success, and he encourages others to consult a doctor about various treatment options.

After 41 years cutting hair, Jon Amyx is as much a philosopher as a barber. He has seen a lot of life go by the downtown Lawrence barbershops on Massachusetts Street. He drops names as he takes a little off the sides. Bernie Sanders came in for a trim. Actor Michael Landon dropped by to buy shampoo when he was filming his last movie. The late-greats and still-greats who’ve sat for an Amyx family haircut include University of Kansas basketball coaches Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Roy Williams, as well as track stars Jim Ryun and Billy Mills.

Since 1987, Amyx has owned Downtown Barbershop, 824 Massachusetts St. Brother, Mike Amyx, has his shop just down the block. While the two are close friends, Jon is not a local politico like six-time mayor Mike. Jon takes great pride in being a barber, he says, mingling the stories from the continuous parade of customers in his chair with those of two generations of barbers before him. The Amyx family barbering tradition dates back about 100 years. Jon and his son, Jay Amyx, have worked together since 1999.

“Jay is a lot more talented than I ever thought about being,” Jon says of his son. “He’s carving Jayhawks in people’s hair and doing all kinds of creative stuff. I’ve always let him run with it. My dad did that for me as well.”

Watching the lives of some of his customers go by helps Jon realize time also is passing for him. “I turned 60 last year,” he says. “I started thinking, where do I want to be in 10 years?”

Part of Jon’s taking stock centered on his health.

“We have some weird, bad hearts in our family,” he says. “I began to think about what I needed to do to stay healthy at age 60. What kind of 60,000-mile tuneup do I need? Guys don’t typically need to do a lot about their health at age 30, but when you get to be 40 or 50 or 60, it’s wise to begin to keep an eye on how you’re doing.”

Jon says that his grandfather had leg ulcers caused by varicose veins and died because of a complication from a blood clot, a risk associated with venous disease. Jon’s mom, Shirley Amyx, also has varicose veins.

“I had some veins in my legs that were unsightly, but they caused me no pain,” he says. “Still, I got to the point that I was worrying they would burst or cause other trouble and I wanted to get them checked out.”

He made an appointment with Dr. Dale Denning at the Lawrence Vein Center, which is in the Fourth Street Health Plaza on the Lawrence Memorial Hospital campus. Denning began with an evaluation of Jon’s legs and conservative response therapy, directing Jon to wear compression stockings for three months. At a second appointment, staff used an ultrasound to map the veins in Jon’s legs.

Considering Amyx’s strong family history of venous disease and obvious varicose veins, Denning recommended laser procedures to collapse and seal shut poorly functioning veins, called endovenous thermal ablation.

Many times patients have been told varicose veins are chiefly a cosmetic problem. But Denning rattles off a list of possible complications ranging from discomfort to death.

Patients often suffer with tiredness, heaviness in their legs, swelling and itching. More serious complications can include chronic inflammation, which is associated with increased risk of autoimmune disease and cancer; venous leg ulcers; superficial spontaneous bleeding; and an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, which can put patients at risk for an often-fatal pulmonary embolism.

“There’s no reason to wait for those problems to develop before getting varicose veins fixed,” Denning says.

Amyx opted for laser endovenous treatment. He required no intravenous therapy or sedation for the outpatient procedure. “It was not major surgery by any means. My legs look and feel a whole lot better,” he says. “I really didn’t think I had pain before, but now I feel a whole lot better.”

Amyx doesn’t dwell on the details of the treatment. He’d rather talk about barbering and life in general.

“After 40 years I can tell you the names of the guys to whom I gave first and last haircuts. I can tell you about guys whose hair I cut and who then went out and were killed the next week in a car wreck. I remember the kid whose hair I cut right before a big spring break trip; he broke his neck on that trip. One winter, probably 50 of my customers passed away, guys I’d known forever who were in their 80s and 90s.”

It’s a privilege, Amyx says, to go through life with people. He strives to be an honest friend and adviser.

“At age 60, I think you slide into the place where you just flat out speak the truth. I see guys come in looking for advice. They ask me about a lot of different things. If I’ve done something firsthand, I can talk about it.

“With my leg surgery, I can say what’s true. I’m not some guy telling them I know a guy who knows a guy. The surgery was what I needed and what I’ve done. It helped me,” he says.

— Katherine Dinsdale is a local writer who wrote a series of patient stories about vein and heart health for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The “Stories of Caring” are displayed in the Fourth Street Health Plaza at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

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