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By: Lauren Hamentz
My name is Lauren Hametz and I graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in May 2012 with a Masters degree in Secondary Education, although I am originally from Edinboro, PA. Recently, I stumbled upon Stop The Clot on Facebook, and immediately felt a strong connection to National Blood Clot Alliance. Why? In May 2011, I almost died at age 23 from bilateral pulmonary emboli (PEs). I felt agonizing pain in my stomach that traveled to my left shoulder . The pain became a lot sharper and I felt a ping of pain every time I took a breath. Whenever I tried to lie down, the pain became even worse. I noticed an extreme loss of energy during that time. I used to run for about an hour every day; instead, I felt short of breath just walking up a flight of stairs. Since I had previously had mononucleosis, I went to see the school doctors, who told me nothing was wrong. My energy level continued to decrease, and there was one time in particular when I went for a run, yet could only go about 100 feet before I couldn’t move anymore. My legs cramped, so I had to walk, and I felt completely defeated.
I also traveled to Hilton Head Island in late April 2011 in a 10 hour straight car ride. I spent three days working at a golf tournament and drove another 10 hours straight back to school. I woke up one morning with tightness in my chest a couple of weeks later. I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me, and I also had pain under the ribs on my left side later in the day. I couldn’t lie down on that side, because the pain was so intense. I had a list of symptoms that I should have realized were serious, but I viewed myself as healthy. To the best of my knowledge, I was a completely healthy 23-year-old who had always made healthy choices in my life. I never smoked, took illegal drugs, and played Division II Volleyball in college.
I woke up one morning with pain in my left elbow that same month. I assumed I hit it on something, although the pain persisted for a couple of days and I kept looking for bruises where I assumed I hit it. A bump formed near my elbow, and I joked to my friends that I had a worm in my arm. The worm turned-it was a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
I was getting ready to head home for a couple of days, which is a 4 hour drive. My symptoms continued to get worse, and I couldn’t even lie flat without moaning in pain. A friend told me my symptoms were probably due to gas. My mother was very concerned, and I told her I just needed to get rid of the gas. After the long drive to Hilton Head, I told my roommate about my pain, who told me I looked sick. I spent the night searching Google to try to find out what my symptoms meant, since I could not sleep, and came to the conclusion it was my gallbladder. My friend accompanied me to the Emergency Room (ER), after I went for a run the next morning.
The ER doctors couldn’t find what was wrong until they did a chest scan that showed PEs. My parents came to see me right away. When I heard I had blood clots in my lungs, could not help but wonder what was happening to me. Doctors questioned me about my life choices to try to determine how I ended up with blood clots in my lungs. I was in shock that this happened to me. How did it happen that I have blood clots?
I was using the hormonal ring for birth control. I did not get many answers to my questions while I was in the hospital. I was scared and confused. I was young, and there was no family history of blood clots. I was started on blood thinners and carried on with my life. It wasn’t until August 2011 that I learned I had Factor V Leiden and Factor II blood clotting disorders. I will now take blood thinners for the rest of my life. I was advised to stop hormonal birth control immediately. The doctors weren’t sure if it was what caused the blood clots, but they saw it as a contributor to my risk for blood clots, given that I have two blood clotting disorders.
It is now almost a year since this whole nightmare happened. I’ve had one more blood clot since, again in my left elbow. This time I felt the pain and immediately knew what it was. I am now on injections of low molecular weight heparin, which my doctor says I will be on for the rest of my life. I am praying and waiting for the doctor to tell me when there is a new blood thinner that treats DVT and PE, so that I don’t have to inject myself every single day and have bruises and bumps on my stomach.
I learn something new about my disorder every day and am still learning. The www.stoptheclot.org web site was eye opening for me. Merely seeing that March is an awareness month focused on blood clots makes me feel as if I can make a difference, since I want to help others learn more about risks, prevention, and treatment of blood clots. Reading the stories written by others who had blood clots stopped me in my tracks. The first story I read was about an active 23 year old girl, who died from a PE. This made me realize for the first time that I could have died last May. One more day, one more hour, and I may have died.
I think it is extremely important to improve awareness about DVT and PE, especially in women. I inherited the Factor V Leiden blood clotting factors from my dad, who at 58 has never experienced a known blood clot. I look back and realize that I was someone who ran for an hour every day and then all of a sudden could not walk up a flight of stairs without stopping. I did not persist and delayed seeking care, even when my symptoms were worsening. I will now pay more attention to symptoms in the future, as I did with my second DVT in my arm.
I learned to listen to my body. It tells me when things aren’t right.
Take Home Messages
- Hormonal birth control increases risk for DVT and PE, and risk is greater in presence of blood clotting disorders
- Seek care immediately for pain that does not go away
- Seek care immediately for shortness of breath or any noticeable change in what you can normally do
- Get up and move about every hour when traveling for more than four hours