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Jay Danek was bereft after his father died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism, so he wanted to share how important his father was to him. A few months after his father’s death, he decided to start a running program, and lost over a hundred pounds. Jay has also used his running to raise money for National Blood Clot Alliance.
Four years ago, I experienced a life changing moment when a 3:30 AM call startled me and put my nervous system on alert. This call came just two weeks after I spent ten days with my parents on our first trip to Maui.
It was my brother, Bryan, who told me that my very best friend in the whole world was taken to the hospital a few hours earlier for a blood clot in his lungs, a pulmonary embolism (PE). It was probably the hardest call my brother ever had to make, because he had to break the news that our father’s PE was fatal. My dad, whom I called “T” since I was a kid, was gone at age 58.
The joy I saw in my father’s eyes during the 10 days he spent in Maui with me, my mom, my wife Traci, and our 9 month old daughter Petra was indescribable. He put work and the stress of everyday life aside, and relaxed. My parents had never been to Hawaii before our trip, and we fulfilled a wish of many years to take them there. When I learned about his passing, I blamed myself, in case his clot was a result of the long plane ride, which was one 4 hour flight followed by a second 6½ hour flight the next day. If I hadn’t taken them on this trip, I kept thinking he might still be alive. What is also relevant is that my dad had a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis/DVT) around 15 years ago, and was on blood thinners for 7 years, which his doctor stopped when everything seemed normal.
His death haunted me for 6 months until my wife Traci helped me make another choice that would ultimately change my life for the better. She was determined to get me out of my funk, and suggested I begin hiking to clear my head. This was more healthful, and hiking gave me time to be alone with my thoughts and exercise.
Traci told me to run as far as I could and then walk when I needed to recover, even though the only time I ever ran before was around the bases in baseball. I was 100 pounds overweight, and had no idea where to start. I started by walking little by little in the McDowell Mountains, until I could finally run a 1/4 mile, which became a 1/2 mile, a mile, and then 4 miles.
It took months for me to run four miles through the mountains, but that was the point when I became hooked. I set out to run the Gateway Loop in the McDowell Mountains daily, as a way to clear my head and to remember something special about my dad. When I reached the summit, I would point to the sky and just think about the good days for a couple moments. These 20-30 seconds of peace cleared my head, and I became a better husband, dad, and friend.
Three years ago, we took a family trip to Italy and when we returned home I told Traci I was going to run at least 4 miles a day for the next 923 days for my dad. My friends thought I was crazy, but I was motivated to celebrate my dad’s life by running 923 straight days since he passed away on 9/23/2008. I began running ultra-marathons, because they gave me time to think and I completed 21 ultras, plus 3 one hundred mile races.
I continued my streak of consecutive days, and my friend asked me when the 923 streak would end. I actually had no idea, although I knew I was getting close to 923. I checked a calendar and counted the remaining days not once, not twice, but three times, to make sure my calculation was correct. My Dad passed away on 9/23/2008 and my goal was to run 923 straight days. I was astonished when I realized that my 923 days of running ended on 9/23/2012. I broke down in tears, and wondered whether some running god would allow me to keep on going so that I could end my streak on 9/23/2012.
I began this streak without any thought about when those 923 days would end. The truth was that the final date was a freaky coincidence. I started the streak the day we returned from Italy, and I ended the 923 day streak on 9/23/2012. During that stretch, I ran over 9400 miles, burned a million plus calories, climbed close to a million vertical feet, lost 100 pounds, and came close to making running a second full time job. I ran about 1550 hours in the last three years to complete my streak.
My dad meant everything to me, and always knew how to get through to me during good and bad times. He was a patient man who loved his family more than life itself. He would do anything for family, friends, or even strangers, and he was happiest when others around him felt happy.
He is survived by my brother and sister, my mother to whom he was married for 36 years, his mother, two sisters, a grandson and granddaughter whom he knew, and three grand children that he was not around to meet. I miss my father more and more every day and pray daily for families who have someone living with potentially life threatening blood clots. What I wouldn’t give for 10 seconds with my dad to say I love you once again, but I am comforted by the fact that his death ultimately got me moving in his memory, and I now lead a more healthful life.
Take Home Messages
- A previous blood clot can increase risk for a recurrence
- Travel longer than 4 hours may pose some risk for blood clots
- Move around every hour or so when traveling; get up and walk, or do heel toe exercises to get blood flowing
- One can respond positively to a life changing event