In December of 2013, I decided to join a local gym after just moving to a new area, and spent a lot of time doing group classes and walking on the treadmill. One day while I was walking, I looked down and noticed some swelling in my lower left leg. I figured the swelling was just from the exercise, but I would soon find out that I was wrong.
A few weeks had passed, and I noticed the swelling was still there. I convinced myself it wasn’t serious and that it was just a lingering side effect of the exercise. I mentioned these symptoms to my mom and she immediately went into “mom mode” and begged me to call my doctor…so I did. Since the swelling was in my left leg, the doctors thought it could have been something to do with my heart and had me come in right away. I saw the first person that was available who wasn’t even my doctor, and after a brief line of questioning, they sent me in for an ultrasound on my legs. I was sure this was overkill and that everything would come back clear, but I was wrong again.
The doctors made me wait for the ultrasound results before I could go home, and the results that were read to me changed my life forever. The ultrasound indicated superficial clots in my left leg, (inflamed veins due to a blood clot just below the surface of the skin). This was all foreign to me, as blood clots were something I knew nothing about until that day. Luckily, the clots were on the surface and this didn’t seem to be too serious – but since I was a healthy 24 year old they wanted to figure out what risk factors may have lead to this. I was sent down to the phlebotomy lab where they drew several vials of blood, and a few days later the results showed I had factor V Leiden, a blood clotting disorder.
I was referred to a cardiologist in Boston and embarked on a 6-month-long journey full of tests and countless doctors appointments. During this period, I received an MRI which revealed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in both of my legs. I spent months on injected anticoagulants, and was now a 25 year old sporting compression stockings on a daily basis – all from something I didn’t know existed 6 months prior.
Once I was given the green light, I began exercising again. I trained for my first, and what I thought would be my my last, 5k! I told myself I would do just one small race to prove to myself that I could complete a race after my diagnosis; and here I am 7 years later having run numerous 5ks, a handful of 10ks and half marathons, and am a proud finisher of the 2021 Boston Marathon. This goes to show that blood clot survivors can do anything!
Although I have been off anticoagulants for a few years now and only wear my compression gear when travelling, factor V Leiden and my history of DVT lives with me every day. I’m always aware of any soreness and swelling in my legs (seriously though, if I ask my husband, “does my leg look swollen?” one more time, he might kick me out of the house) and whenever I get shortness of breath out of nowhere, I immediately worry that I had another DVT, missed the symptoms and that it’s progressed to the point of a pulmonary embolism (PE), which are blood clots in the lungs. In a nutshell, it’s always in the back of my mind.
My advice for others is please don’t brush off your symptoms as nothing. If you think something is off, go to the doctor! It may be nothing but it’s better to be safe than sorry!