My name is Tanya Warwick, MD. I am a Vascular Neurologist – a doctor who evaluates, treats and studies diseases that affect the structure and function of the blood vessels supplying the brain, such as strokes – at the University of California San Francisco/Fresno.
I am also a patient who had a pelvic DVT (deep vein thrombosis or blood clot) with multiple pulmonary emboli (plural of pulmonary embolism or PE) on 08/24/2012. No one thinks that they are going to have a PE, especially not a physician. I had a very simple outpatient procedure that required 6 weeks off for my body to heal. I knew about the risks of DVT from immobility and tried my best to walk in the house and to the store when I could to keep the blood in my legs moving. At 5 weeks, I was feeling much better and went back to work.
On the first day back to work, I went home exhausted. I remember telling my fiancée that I had an odd pain under my right clavicle (a shoulder bone in my upper back) that was spreading up to my ear. It was mild and only hurt when I took a deep breath. I had no swelling in my legs, so I really wasn’t worried. I thought I was just out of shape and that it would get better. I continued to work the rest of the week.
On Friday after lunch, I walked back to my office. By the time I got there I was having terrible crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, and weakness. I was very sweaty. Being a physician and somewhat in denial at this point, I attempted to call my primary care provider.
Only at the insistence of my office staff did I agree to go to the Emergency Department across the street. There I was quickly diagnosed with multiple pulmonary emboli and started on treatment. I spent a week in the hospital, had an inferior vena cava or IVC filter insert. An IVC filter is a medical device inserted into the major vein that brings blood from the lower part of the body into the heart. This is done to prevent blood clots from traveling to the lungs to form another pulmonary embolism (PE). Now I am on Coumadin for the next 6 months.
Throughout this experience I have had to learn to listen to my body and trust that it is going to tell me when something is wrong. I have learned that though I thought I was invincible I am not, and even doctors get sick. I have learned to ask questions and not be shy about it. Doctors assume that other physicians and patients know about DVT / PE or that they can get information on the Internet. I had a lot of questions and often struggled to get the answers. My fiancée and my daughter have learned to empower themselves as well.
I am now back to work and consider myself an advocate for DVT/PE awareness. Several of my partners and I are in the process of writing a patient recovery book to help others who have gone through what I am going through, so that they can have accurate, up to date information. I try very hard not to stress over the little things at work anymore. I have faced my own mortality and realize that life is too short and my family needs me here. I cannot help my patients if I do not take care of myself. As a reminder of how lucky I am, I made my IVC filter into a Christmas ornament after it was taken out. Every time I look at it on my tree I am thankful for all that I have, including my health.
I am getting married in 6 weeks. At our wedding we are putting up a red “Wishing Tree” for our guests to offer their wishes to the newlyweds. For every wish placed on the tree, my new husband and I will be making a donation to the NBCA. We are also giving out educational materials given to us by NBCA at the event so we can increase awareness about blood clots.
Take Home Messages:
- Tanya learned to listen to her body and trust that it will tell her when something is wrong.
- Blood clots don’t discriminate. Even doctors get them.
- When you have a DVT or a PE, ask a lot of questions and persist with those questions until they are answered to your satisfaction.
- Family members need to be empowered with information about blood clots, so they can help you as an advocate in your treatment.
- Surviving a PE is a life-changing experience.
- A PE crisis can turn you into an advocate for DVT/PE awareness
- IVC filters are often temporary. Once removed, they make good Christmas ornaments that remind you of how lucky to are to have survived PEs.
- There is life after blood clots.