A couple of years ago I “met” a girl named Sara.
We’ve commented on each other’s blogs, laughed (and cried) on Facebook chats, and above all, have always been there to cheer each other on through all of life’s virtual moments. We like to joke about being “long lost sisters” because we truly have so much in common! She is also a HUGE inspiration to me. (She writes two blogs!).
At Words to Run By, she talks about life, running, healthy living and the keeping the memory of her mother alive. At Blood Clot Recovery Network, she brings advocacy, awareness and help to those dealing with something that hit very close to home almost two years ago.
You see, Sara endured a life changing event. And the month of March is dedicated to this “silent killer” that almost took her life. As I began to see her talk about Blood Clot Awareness month on her blog and social media, I knew I had to reach out and see if she’d be willing to do a guest post here at Orangespoken. It’s such an important issue and I had to do my part to help her spread awareness.
Survival of the Fittest: My story about how I survived a blood clot and what you need to know about this silent killer.
In the recent years and especially months leading up to my 30th birthday, I routinely joked, “Life probably ends when you turn 30!” And while I secretly believed it, I had worked really, really hard for three years prior to improve my health and ensure that would not happen. I lost about 50 pounds of extra weight through eating whole, unprocessed foods, exercising my muscles and running. I fell in love with running, in fact, and ran seven half marathons and a full marathon myself before coaching others to do the same. I was healthier, not to mention happier, than I had been most of my adult life. That all changed, in an instant and without much warning, in the spring of 2012 when a blood clot almost ended my life.
I remember it like it was yesterday, I don’t think I will ever forget what turned out to be the single most painful thing I have ever experienced in my entire life; except, I didn’t know what was happening or that my life literally was hanging in the balance while it did. That Saturday started out like any other Saturday had, I met my running group for a breezy two mile run for the start of a new training season. At the conclusion of the run, I was feeling tired and noticed a nagging pain in my calf area behind my knee, which I attributed to a running injury. After conferring with my fellow coaches, I decided to go home, rest, elevate, ice and relax just like every other time my ongoing overuse injury would bother me. It was late morning by the time I got home, grabbed a snack and took a nap. I woke up out of a deep sleep several hours later and noticed a pain in my left side that I attributed to sleeping funny at the time. I stretched and moved around, the pain persisted, and I knew I had really overdone it that morning after taking several weeks off before the kick-off. I took a hot shower and felt my side relax, convinced I felt better.
Throughout the day, I went about normal Saturday household chores and activities, hobbling around on my leg, which was nothing new to me. I stayed off of it as much as I could and didn’t leave the house. By Saturday night, I was feeling tired again and decided to go to bed early – seven in the evening early. I took another shower to relax and went to lay down, but I couldn’t really lay flat due to the pain in my side. I propped myself up with pillows on the couch, now assuming I had actually strained a muscle in my side during my morning run. When my husband came home a few hours later, he asked if I was okay, and I said yes, just tired and sore. I slept restlessly on the couch that night and into Sunday morning.
I woke up Sunday feeling better, I thought, fully adjusted to the pain in my calf and still favoring my left side. As the day wore on, I was having trouble taking a deep breath and told my husband I felt like I had to go to the bathroom, but didn’t. The pain in my side got worse very steadily and by late afternoon, I was struggling to speak to the point that I cancelled a family birthday celebration. The fleshy part of the backside of my knee felt as if it was being pinched in a vice, but I was becoming increasingly concerned with my lack of breath, as was my family.
After speaking to me on the phone, my father got in touch with our family physician who got in touch with me, and I described my symptoms to him. After I was finished – and panting – the longest 30 seconds of silence in my life ensued. My words to my physician were clear as day in breaking the silence, “Do I need to panic now or later?” He responded with urgent instructions for me to go to the emergency room immediately or he would call 9-1-1. “When you get there,” he said, “Tell them you have a PE. I’m calling ahead for you.”
What happened next was a blur to me and filled with the greatest pain I have ever experienced and hope to ever experience again. I was taken into the ER received immediate testing. Later that night, I was admitted to the hospital, after several hours of intense pain and before a hefty dose morphine made it so I just didn’t care anymore. I spent the next several days in an empty ICU unit located next to the elevators in case a crash cart was needed and I had to be moved to save my life. The hospital staff routinely told me I was lucky to be alive and that I almost didn’t make it. Nearly ten days later, I left the hospital on oxygen, in a wheelchair and unable to even use the restroom unassisted. Forget running. I could barely move.
What I suffered from was a blood clot in the leg otherwise known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) that broke apart, traveled through my blood stream, passed through my heart and lodged in my lung as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, about 900,000 American are affected by blood clots each year and nearly 600,000 will die as a result of one. In the United States, one person every six minutes dies from a PE. Blood clots kill more people than AIDS, breast cancer and traffic accidents combined. And yet, they are virtually unheard of in the public sphere. Blood clots can affect anyone, at any age, of any race or gender and in any health condition, down to the fittest athlete.
The good news is, there is hope. Awareness and prompt treatments saves lives. And the fact is, many people simply do not know what to be look out for when it comes to blood clots, but knowing could save your life or the life of someone you know.
The symptoms of DVT (blood clot commonly in the calf, groin or pelvic area) can include swelling in the affected leg, ankle or foot; pain in your leg, ankle or foot (keep in mind pain in the calf can feel like cramping or a Charley horse that won’t go away after massaging, ice, elevation or rest); warmth over the affected area; and changes in skin color such as turning pale, blue red or purple. If you suspect you have a DVT, you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible or seek prompt medical attention.
The symptoms of a PE (blood clot that has traveled to the lung) can include unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath; chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath, cough or lie down; feeling light headed, dizzy or fainting; rapid pulse; sweating; coughing up blood; and s sense of anxiety, nervousness or impending doom. If you suspect you have a PE, seek emergency medical attention immediately or call 9-1-1, as it is life threatening.
While there are several factors that put you at risk for a blood clot including a hospitalization or recent surgery, major accident or trauma, immobility due to a long plane or car ride, pregnancy, taking hormone replacements including contraceptives, heredity and obesity, there are also several things you can do to help prevent a blood clot. Your risk is greatly reduced by staying active and stretching often when sitting or traveling by plane or car for long periods; maintain an ideal body weight; know your genetic risk factors and family history for developing a clot; and if you have a major hospitalization or surgery, discussing blood clot prevention with your doctor.
Just about two years later, I am still recovering from what happened to me in June of 2012. While most of my physical abilities if not all have returned, I am far from being in the shape I once was. I will need to start over with training and running, this time learning to use a body that just doesn’t feel the same since this happened. Emotionally, I am far from healed after experiencing the devastating trauma that I did. But, I will get there in both respects, one step at a time.
March is National Blood Clot Awareness Month and since my DVT and subsequent PE, it has become imperative for me that I share my experience and tell others what they need to know about blood clots, both now and always. It sounds like I should have known something was wrong that weekend in June, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. And, if I had known the simple signs of DVT, I may not have waited to seek help. If I had listened to my body when it was trying to tell me something was wrong, I may not have been through all the pain and damage of a PE. Blood clots can affect anyone and they will continue to kill many unless we work together to spread knowledge about signs, symptoms, risk factors and prevention. Knowing could save your life or the life of someone you know. Listen to your body, know what it might be trying to tell you and take action to take the best care of yourself that you can. -Sara
You can continue to support Sara’s amazing awareness endeavors by visiting her blogs: