Dan Capobianco Tells His Blood Clot Survival Story

Categories: Patient Stories

Dan CapobiancoI am a 56+year old male.  I have occasional asthma, primarily exercised induced.  If I notice asthma symptoms while working out, I can usually push through them and finish the work-out, although I do use a bronchodilator when I need to.

I am an avid martial arts devotee – black belt in one style, brown belt in another style (working to black).  I do some weight work (not heavy lifting), occasional pull-ups and about 30 push-ups every other day for strength training. I typically train for about two hours 3 times per week.

Martial arts involve repetitive kicking and punching. We punch and kick a heavy bag to develop power in our techniques.

Recently, I noticed what looked like a big purple bruise on my left outer bicep, which I ignored. The next day, I noticed my left arm was a little sore, but I attributed it to my routine of pull-ups and/or karate.  Once again, I paid no attention.  Five days later, my arm was still sore and noticeably swollen, but it was not really painful and I was able to move it in all directions.

I went to karate on that day anyway, and did a full 2 hour work-out without noticeable aches, pains, or shortness of breath.  I worked up a good sweat, which is normal.  During that particular practice, I worked on the punching bag.  The next day, my left arm felt sore and was sensitive to touch from my left elbow up to the center of my armpit.

I could feel the vein underneath my armpit, and it felt like a rope.  I thought I pulled a tendon, so I took it very easy on my left arm while I exercised two days later.  This was another 2 hour work-out, and other than being slightly winded by the end of practice, I did not feel any discomfort or pain.  My breathing returned to normal within a few minutes after the practice.  That same evening, my left arm was noticeably swollen, but there was still no pain.  It still felt like muscle soreness.

My left armpit was very swollen and the vein under my armpit still felt very rigid and very sensitive to touch. I saw my doctor ten days after my first symptoms, and she ordered an immediate ultrasound of my left arm.  It showed a “massive” blood clot in my subclavian vein.  My doctor sent me immediately to the Emergency Room which was on the next floor.   The doctor there ordered a CT scan that showed 5 clots in both sides of my lungs.

They also did a heart ultrasound that was normal, as were my blood pressure and heart rate.  I was not experiencing any chest pain or shortness of breath, despite my diagnosis of pulmonary emboli.  Nevertheless, I was immediately admitted into the hospital and began low molecular weight heparin and Coumadin® treatment that night. The final conclusion is that my clot was “idiopathic,” which means there is no specific cause.  I was discharged two days later.

I do not know exactly when the blood clots broke off and traveled to my lungs, or how many days I was actually walking around with a pulmonary embolism.  I’m not even certain when my “massive” blood clot developed. All I know is that I had blood clots in my lungs that got everyone’s full attention, mostly my own.

I have no abnormal issues with my blood-no familial or genetic predisposition to blood clotting, nor is there is any family history of blood clotting.

I have already seen a blood specialist. She had nothing more to add to my very limited understanding of this. I am planning to get a second opinion.  No doctor is willing to advise me as to how soon I can resume my normal work-out schedule. At this point, I have been on blood thinners for almost three weeks.  I have read that “within 2-4 weeks” I can likely begin training, but I am sitting this out until I can get more definitive medical advice.

I am trying to get answers from my doctors.  I have been reading like crazy.  Thus far, doctors have dismissed my questions because they tell me that blood clots very rarely happen to “healthy” athletes.  I see blood clots as a serious issue that does not get enough press.

I believe that there are many people like me out there who may think they have a routine sports injury when in fact they have something much more serious.  I feel very fortunate that I had my symptoms checked out, even if I did wait for a number of days.  This is like having a ticking time-bomb strapped to your chest.  From what I read, there is up to a 30% chance of the bomb going off and killing a patient with an undiagnosed pulmonary embolism.  What if I didn’t go to the doctor?  I definitely would have continued going to the gym according to my usual routine. Would I have made it?  Would I be around to write my story?

Take Home Messages

  • Seek medical attention for symptoms that seem like a muscle pull or soreness, especially when they seem to get worse, since DVTs often appear in that way.
  • Persist in asking questions of your healthcare provider if you think you are not being heard, or your questions seem unanswered.  It may help to write them down and to have a close family member or friend who can help you get answers.

Read more patient stories here

Author: admin

  • David Proctor

    “Idiopathic” clots of the subclavian vein in otherwise healthy and athletic people is often due to position-dependent traumatic compression of the vein in the costoclavicular space (between the first rib and the collarbone), known as Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. If left un-definitively treated with short-term anticoagulation there is a significant chance of rethrombosis in the future and subsequent permanent damage to the vein. The definitive treatment is the surgical removal of the first rib. Removal of this rib prevents further damage to the vein and thus subsequent thrombosis. Full athletic recovery is expected in 3-6 months. Dan may want to find a specialist in Thoracic outlet syndrome to be evaluated.

  • Mark

    I left the hospital last Monday, March 17, 2014 after several symptoms appeared. I did not recognize the earlier symptoms of becoming out of breath and labored breathing gasping for air. I have PTSD and suffer from major anxiety attacks regularly. I dismissed the week long event to the existing conditions. However swelling in my right leg caught my attention. My left arm from the pivot point down to just above my biceps has been hurting for about a month or two. The pain is similar to the pain in my diagnosed DVT. I still don’t know if it’s related. However the hospital did an immediate CT Scan and before it was even complete the technician rushed me back and spoke directly to the doctor before the scan was prepared for viewing. I have a massive Pulminary Embolism over both lungs. I was in the hospital from Wednesday to Monday until my INR reached 1.5 where I was released to outpatient care at the VA. My levels shot up to 4.15 and afte 3 days of not taking Warfarin it dropped to 2.25. Now I’m on a set schedule per doctors orders. Will check every 2 weeks until later – them once per month.

    Had my brother not recently gone through this I might be dead. Both of us are reasonably healthy. I’ve become less mobile due to various symptoms from my military injuries. But I thought I moved enough to prevent blood clots. There is no genetic evidence shown from testing. But one nurse said that is not absolute. I know 3 in my family that have gone through this. And I suspect I should stay on anticoagulants longer than they tell me. I have a 9 year old, 13 year old and 19 year old that need a daddy. If for no other reason that has been what keeps me fighting for my life, even through PTSD. This just adds to the list of anxieties.

    I can’t get straight answers from doctors. It’s either too risky to say “get active again” or they really don’t know. Enough nurses have advised not to over do it. So I’m in a sort of limbo. I am just going to go as my body allowed hoping I don’t dislodge a clot. Hoping to naturally absorb the existing clots. But any future symptoms I will report immidiately to my doc at the VA. They put me on a high priority list. Being a 100% disabled vet puts me at a financial disability and I have to take what I can get. I just hope and pray they don’t kill me.