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My name is Melissa, and I stumbled upon Stop The Clot® Facebook during my research for more information on blood clots in an attempt to find others who experienced the life-altering experience of surviving a blood clot. I was a healthy 25 year-old, who ran numerous half-marathons, sprint triathlons, and I am also an active Crossfitter. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’d battle life-threatening blood clots in my calf (deep vein thrombosis/DVT) and lungs (pulmonary embolism/PE).
However, I noticed lingering calf pain in my left leg in September 2011. There was no swelling or redness, but it hurt so much during the night that the pain woke me out of a dead sleep. I got out of bed to elevate and ice it, since I assumed it was just a muscle strain from my workouts. My calf pain lingered as weeks went on, though less intense, so I continued to exercise, as well as walk on it for 12-hour shifts three days in a row, because I am a nurse assistant, a role that requires me to be on my feet and walk a lot.
My boyfriend and I had to pack up our house in Northern Michigan to move downstate, since he was being transferred to another office. That night, I noticed what felt like more gas pain in my left shoulder and lower left backside that I more or less ignored. The next morning, we packed up our (thankfully) small house, which involved moving heavy boxes, lifting, and packing our car. I then drove 4 hours to my parents’ house downstate, still feeling what I thought was persistent gas pain. When we dropped off a few things at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, my symptoms prompted me to tell his dad that I felt as if I was having a heart attack. I woke up that night with dire pain in my lower left back. My instinct told me something was very wrong, so I knocked on my parents’ bedroom door in the middle of the night to tell them what was going on.
My mom and dad had no idea what it was, but they stayed up with me, massaged my back, went to the 24-hour grocery store to buy Gas-X at 2:00 AM, and applied heat to the area. Nothing worked, so I went back to bed, tired and exhausted. At 7:00 AM, I woke up with the same sharp pain in the same places. After about a month of pain in my calf, shoulder, and lower back, I finally decided to go to the Emergency Room (ER). The ER doctor confirmed from MRI results that I had two pulmonary emboli (PEs) in my left lung. A Doppler of my left leg found the initial blood clot (deep vein thrombosis/DVT) that triggered my PEs. I will never forget the doctor’s face when he told me about my PEs. My life has changed forever since then, in some ways for the better.
I tested positive for heterozygous Factor V Leiden and Factor II blood clotting disorders. I stopped my oral birth control pills immediately because they carry risk for blood clots, and was started on Coumadin®, which I took for 6 months. The catch is that Coumadin® can sometimes alter test results for certain blood clotting disorders, so I plan to be re-tested for Factor II in the future. My hematologist recommended against life-long Coumadin®, because he attributed my use of hormonal birth control as the primary cause of my DVT and PEs. I trust him, and am so thankful to be free of Coumadin® therapy now. This has been hard for me, because I realize that I am no longer protected by blood thinners and although that thought scares me a little bit overall, I’d rather be free from taking medication, and make lifestyle modifications to prevent any future clots.
I continue to exercise daily, I wear compression stockings when I know I have to sit around studying or traveling for long periods, and I move around more frequently, given that I am in school and study for hours each day.
I am currently a 26 year old nursing student at a community college in northern Michigan. I believe my DVT/PE experience will help make me a more compassionate nurse, because there is nothing more supportive and reassuring than a caring, knowledgeable nurse to help patients in need. I have just lived through a life-threatening experience, so can relate to the fear some patients feel with any illness. I have cared for a couple of patients with blood clots. When I teach a patient about blood clot awareness upon discharge, it not only comes easy to me, I feel as if I make a positive connection with them based on similar experiences.
I want my story to help encourage others, and tell them that I was fortunate to survive. If you think you have any symptom of a blood clot, do not wait to seek care, even if you are unsure about what is going on. I truly don’t know how I am alive after delaying almost one whole month to seek medical attention, but I thank the good Lord daily for blessing me.
Do not let your blood clot experience define you; let it be a part of who you are. These wise words are from my friend Dana, a survivor of a cerebral venous thrombosis related to her use of birth control pills. Stay positive, lead a healthy lifestyle, and listen to your body. Spread awareness about blood clotting risk.