By Jennifer Gray

If someone would have told me a year ago that my birth control pills were killing me, I would have laughed. At 25 years old, I was on the top of my game. Professionally, I had just started my dream job six weeks prior as a meteorologist at NBC 6 in Miami. Physically, I was in the best shape of my life, even researching where I was going to race my next 5K. I was excited about my new life and job, and thought I had finally found the challenges I had been looking for in my career. Unfortunately, those challenges were only a drop in the bucket for what was slowly surfacing.
Jennifer Gray
Less than 2 months after moving from Louisiana to Miami, I began to experience fever and body aches. I didn’t think too much of it, especially considering the crazy hours and long days I was working. The only issue was it didn’t seem like the symptoms were improving.

After a run of four different antibiotics, I continued to work during the next few weeks. My doctors kept telling me it was a Urinary Track Infection (UTI).  Then, one Sunday morning, when I could barely stand in front of the camera, I finally went to the ER. I had shortness of breath, severe pain in my lungs, and it was all getting worse. The ER doctors said it was mono, but the chest pains were unbearable. When I asked about the pain, they blamed it on the mono and/or anxiety, but I demanded more tests. Only then did the doctors find pulmonary emboli (PE) in both lungs – the largest measuring 9.9mm.  With a pale face, the doctor told me I would have died within hours if I had not been so persistent.

As I lay there alone in a strange new city – I had no idea how this would change my life. My physicians were shocked, especially since I was in incredible shape and wasn’t a “candidate.” After three days in the hospital and countless blood tests, they found I genetically carry factor V Leiden. I also tested positive for several other anticoagulant antibodies that make me more prone to clotting by 50-fold. The biggest surprise to me was that it was my birth control pills that triggered the clot. I guess I never really knew the potential risks involved with taking birth control pills, and I had only been taking them for a couple of years. A few weeks later, my sister found out she also carries factor V Leiden and was immediately taken off birth control.

Since that day, I’ve spent many hours before and after work in doctors’ offices undergoing tests. I’ve been on Coumadin® ever since. My doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are still debating whether I should stay on Coumadin® for the rest of my life.  My family and friends quickly became my source of strength and support when I couldn’t find any within myself.

NBC was my family 1,300 miles away from home. Everyone urged me to take as much time off as I needed, but I refused and returned to work less than two weeks after my hospital release. I tried to hide the magnitude of what happened, because I didn’t want to appear “weak” in a business that’s so demanding of your strength.  Even though I struggled with the denial of something so traumatic happening to me in my prime, I just wanted everything to appear normal.

Five months later, I’ve developed the strength and courage to face these challenges. I know now that life will never be normal, but it can be managed. I learned to not look at Coumadin® as my enemy, but as my saving grace. I thank God every day for giving me a second chance. I have more energy now than ever  before and have even completed my first 5K run since the incident.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to my second run. I now look at my obstacles as opportunities to speak out about PE, especially birth control pills risks.  Statistics show that one out of roughly every 20 people have factor V Leiden, and PE is amongst the three top causes of death in the US. The next person does not have to be you.  I often wondered about my purpose in life. How would I be able to change the world, even if it were one person at a time?

My mission is now crystal clear – raising awareness about birth control risks and blood disorders, so no one else’s daughter, sister, mother or best friend will have to experience what I did. I will continue to challenge my doctors, nurses, and educators when it comes to the risks of taking birth control pills.  My new mission reminds me of an old spiritual song – “If I can help somebody as I travel along; if I can cheer somebody with a word or song; if I can show somebody that she’s traveling wrong… then my living will not be in vain.”
Remember, my story doesn’t have to be yours.

Posted October 5, 2008

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  • Lymm Potter

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story. As a 56yr old female who just left ER Tues eve after being diag with small blood clot in the right leg,
    your story has helped me this morning in the lonely hours after my husband went to work. God is truly good as I was to fly today to Pittsburgh
    from Charlotte but wen to Dr Monday to check up on some protruding veins in my hands and feet. The Dr. was not too concerned however I
    asked if there was a test to rule out a blood clot so we did a blood test that showed elevated red cells indicating my blood was thickening. I
    thank God He gave me the wisdom to ask for the test. I was sent to receive an ultrasound which confirmed a small clot in my leg. Today I am
    on xarelto blood thinner and not on a plane!

  • sandra

    Thank you jennifer for sharing your story.Mine is a little bit more complicated. I started having vericose veins in my legs when I was 12 as I grew up and got older my legs begin to stay with fevers and hard notted veins. When I was 25 and my son was almost a year old I had my first vein stripping. It was a awful painful procedure. It took many months to get my muscles streched back out . I still had problems with my legs I had my daughter when I was 31 and still wasn’t taking a thinner by the time I was 37 I had my first diagnosed clott in my right leg it was a dvt in my calf and several around my knee cap. A doctor recomended 9 asparin 3 times a day needless to say I became very sick and almost deaf from all the asprin. Finally I was put on coumadin and kept getting them over the years. I moved to a. Different state and didn’t take coumadin for a year. I came back to tennessee and was placed on plavix instead of coumadin. I developed several large clotts in my right leg and they broke off this past jan and went to my brain. Thank god I had medical knoladge. And knew something wasn’t. Right I wasn’t having a normal head ache this one had went on for days. I went to the er and they found them by a ct scan they were there on the right side of my brain and my jugular. I’m now looking out my hospital window wondering if I will ever be whole again because I have seizures and had to learn to rewalk again. But my faith and my family and skyline hospital has done a wonderful job. I am alive today I also got a second chance at life. I agree there should be more clott awareness.if possible would you share my story

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/DVTawarenessandsupport/ Ronetta Gilmore

    Thank you for sharing. I too have suffered a PE, I was taking hormonal birth control and have two clotting disorders. I have created a petition to have genetic testing done before birth control is prescribed, as well as to be a part of prenatal labs. Please feel free to support:

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/battle-against-bloodclots/