I’m a Two-Time Survivor of Pulmonary Emboli: Heather’s Story

I’m a Two-Time Survivor of Pulmonary Emboli: Heather’s Story

Can you be too young to experience blood clots? At 22 years old, I wasn’t, and neither are you! I have heard “you are too young” at every medical provider’s office, but blood clots do not discriminate. Trust me, because I’m a two-time survivor of pulmonary emboli, also known as PEs or blood clots in my lungs. I’m 31 years old now, and I work in healthcare business management. I have a wonderful daughter and a supportive, loving husband. I have taken anticoagulants, or blood thinners, for nine years. I take the blood thinner warfarin, so at times it has been a difficult journey managing my therapeutic ranges, required dosing changes, altered dietary choices, and unexplained bruising.

In March of 2011, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with multiple, massive blood clots in both lungs. To say I was terrified is an understatement. I was doubled over in pain with every step and breath. The pain was so excruciating I thought my ribs were broken. The hospital said if I had waited any longer to get to the emergency room I would have died. Hearing that, I naturally freaked out. My daughter was almost one year old, and she couldn’t be without her mom.

After one week on oxygen, anticoagulant injections, and monitoring, I was told my clots were caused by estrogen-based birth control. I was to remain on blood thinners for the rest of my life and not take any medications or supplements with hormones. As I was being discharged from the hospital, the nurse said, “You’re lucky. Usually people don’t get to go to their physical home after going through this.”

My life changed forever. I haven’t felt the same since. The lower section of my right lung is damaged, because it didn’t receive enough blood flow and oxygen. Imaging scans showed some of the tissue died due to severe blockage caused by the blood clots. It hurts in very hot or cold temperatures. I also developed a rapid heart rate with extra abnormal beats, so I’m also on lifelong medication for that too.

In May of 2020, I experienced wrap-around pain in my chest. My husband, daughter, and I had been very active walking miles each day. One morning on a nature trail, I stopped mid-stride holding my chest. There was a sharp and quick pain. My initial thought was I overexerted myself that week. I had a stronger twinge throughout my chest hours later, so I went to the ER. My worst fear was confirmed: I had another blood clot. This time, I had one in my left lung. I kept telling myself it was only one and at least I was already on a blood thinner.

I saw a hematologist who took 31 vials of blood. Results showed that I have the genetic clotting disorder factor V Leiden. I urged my two sisters to get tested too. If I had not experienced the first episode of blood clots, I would not have known what signs to look for. I ask everyone to be aware of any symptoms that they don’t consider normal. If something feels off, get checked out. It could save your life!

I’m beyond thankful for the people who took care of me and those who still do. I am also grateful to the National Blood Clot Alliance for all the material I’ve read over the years. The online support groups for survivors tied to NBCA have been a Godsend. I’m most thankful to still be alive to continue enjoying life with my amazing little family, and to add to it.


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