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By Kelsey Minarik
While I was on a 5 hour plane ride from Los Angeles to Manhattan, I felt a lingering ache in the back of my left knee that was uncomfortable, but nothing that caused me to feel immediate alarm. I am only 21 and have been an athlete my entire life, so I chalked it up to a muscle tweak or sprain, and thought it would go away. Besides, I was heading to New York City to meet one of my best friends for my belated 21st birthday celebration – an event I was determined to celebrate to the fullest!
My optimism that it was simply a “sprain” slowly diminished as my calf and ankle continued to swell even further post-landing. The immaculate “skinny” jeans and delicate flat shoes I’d so frequently worn while “city-trolling” suddenly became mechanisms of torture. The jeans squeezed my sore leg and ankle, which caused me to hobble, rather than stroll, around the city. After five days of unrelieved pain without any reduction in the swelling, I returned to my home in Southern California and immediately went to my family physician.
The moment my doctor glanced at my swollen leg, he instructed me to go directly to the ER. He was fearful that I had a DVT in my leg, and I was very fortunate that his professional instincts were ultimately right. A diagnostic ultrasound confirmed that I had a large blood clot in my left leg that stretched up the length of my calf to the back of my knee.
The diagnosis of a blood clot for anyone is devastating. For me, it was especially hard because of my young age and lifestyle. I have been a competitive athlete my entire life, and my love of athletics rivaled my love of travel. I’d spent the previous summer studying in Paris, and had already committed to continuing my studies in Switzerland the following summer. My diagnosis and the course of treatment for my blood clot threatened to de-rail all of these plans.
Immediately after learning about my blood clot, I embarked on the same treatment journey as most DVT patients: several weeks of twice-daily injections, a year’s worth of oral “blood-thinning” medication, countless doctor’s visits to monitor my INR, and of course the inevitable compression stockings! I have to admit the entire process was very difficult. As a 21 year-old, I did not love the idea of visiting doctor’s offices flooded primarily with patients 50+ years my senior, or having to squeeze my legs into constricting flesh-colored compression stockings in the heat of summer on the beach in California! Bikini and compression hose? I don’t think so!
Extensive testing and follow-up revealed that I did not possess any genetic thrombophilia or predisposition to blood clots. Instead, the clot had been enabled because I was taking hormonal birth control pills since I was 17. I took the pills to palliate severe pain I experienced during menstrual cycles, and had taken them without any thought that I’d be a statistic in that percentage of women who develop adverse effects. In my mind, those potential effects were always just “statistics” and “stories” and do not happen to real people like me. I hope that by sharing my story, more young women can learn from my experience and see that these adverse effects ARE real stories that do happen to real people – they are not empty statistics. Warnings about adverse effects are very real risks, and they should be weighed strongly when considering new medications (especially when they are hormonally based). Anyone is at risk for a blood clot. I am a living example.
Today, I am close to two years post-clot and am happy to report that my condition is greatly improved. I am no longer on Coumadin® or any other medication, and my clot has begun to disintegrate. I’m back to running, traveling, and have more or less resumed all the activities I enjoyed before my DVT. And though I still struggle with pain from left-over valve damage, I’m grateful that my DVT was diagnosed before it became the more serious condition of a pulmonary embolism.
I hope that I can be a helpful resource to others living with DVT and an example that life can and does go on after a blood clot. I look forward to working on increasing awareness with the help of organizations such as NBCA, and to continue to seek out ways to improve the quality of life for those living with blood clots or clotting disorders.