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I am a healthy 23 year old who exercises 6 times a week, eats healthy food, and has never smoked. After returning from nearly a year overseas, I decided to change my lifestyle and lost nearly 20 kg (44 pounds) in the past 5 months. During this period I became really in tune with my body and took good care of it. In 2007, I suffered from a small blood clot in my left calf after fracturing my ankle in 2 places. This was treated with clexane (an injectible blood thinner or anti-clotting medication), a pressure stocking and warfarin for 3 months. As I did not test positive for Factor V Leiden, I visited two GP’s (general practitioners) and a specialist who said it would be fine for me to take the pill. I was put on Yasmin; however, while overseas in January 2013, a doctor changed it to Yaz®.
One morning I woke up with a sore right knee, however, I put it down to a pilates injury from the day before. A week later, the pain was still present – not overwhelmingly painful, just annoying. It seemed to ease with exercise, so I continued to exercise and focus on stretching. The past few weeks I had been very tired but put it down to being a first year teacher as it was near the end of term. A week later, I found my right calf was also sore and I was a little short of breath. However, 2 months earlier I had strained my right calf muscle and this felt exactly the same. So, I booked in an appointment with my physio (physical therapist) the next day and put down the shortness of breath to asthma. I would never make that appointment.
The next morning I woke up and decided as my calf was sore, I would do yoga instead of more vigorous training that day. After yoga I commented to my boyfriend that I felt really weird like my heart was racing and a bit light headed. Then I walked upstairs to my bedroom where my head started to spin, my heart raced, and I collapsed. I woke about a minute later to my little brother asking why I was lying on my bedroom floor. After a shower and then another collapse, I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
The doctors were initially a little lost as my symptoms included mild calf pain, elevated heart rate and very low blood pressure when I began to sit up and then collapsing when I fully sat or stood up. The doctors’ initial diagnoses shocked me – a blood clot in my lung. They believed it would be a medium sized blood clot and that it was most likely putting pressure on my heart and restricting oxygen flow to my brain, which is why I was passing out.
After the tests the doctors and I were shocked to learn that I had a submassive (Australian term) or saddle (US term) PE (pulmonary embolism or lung clot). This means it was one clot that bridged both lungs. I also had a large DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis or leg clot) above, behind and below my right knee. The saddle/submassive PE was putting significant pressure on my heart, specifically the right ventricle and depriving me of oxygen. The doctors were surprised by the size of it as I was not presenting with typical symptoms, and was not at a high risk of developing clots. I was rushed to the ICU and for 3 days was put on strict bed rest as they treated the clot with 80mg of clexane twice a day. I was also on oxygen for those 3 days and adrenaline to help my heart beat for 2 of those days. I was then able to move to a general ward and begin moving around once again, which was no easy task
My treatment plan consists of a month of 80mg clexane injections twice a day – I am very lucky that my boyfriend was happy to learn how to administer these as I hate needles and they hurt, a lot! Since they are finished I am now on Xarelto®, an oral blood thinner or anti-clotting medication for life to prevent this from happening again and of course I will not be taking the pill anymore.
After experiencing this second blood clot, I was tested for other genetic disorders and was found to have a Prothrombin gene mutation (prothrombin G20210A), which I inherited from my father’s side – we think. No other family members have ever had a blood clot; however my father thinks his mother may have had the Prothrombin mutation. I’ve been told this mutation is only really a problem when the hormones in your body are altered, such as during pregnancy. When my grandmother gave birth to my father, she unexplainably had huge complications, which almost killed her and my father.
More young women need to be made more aware of the symptoms of a DVT, as it could happen to any one. I was lucky and unlucky by my lack of symptoms – unfortunately as I did not swell up or have any chest pain. I was unable to diagnose myself before I started collapsing and came close to death. However, I am quite lucky that I had very little pain and swelling as it is made my recovery a lot easier and I am very mobile. Finally, I am relieved and thank myself every day that I lost all that weight and became a lot healthier before all this happened. If I had not lost weight I may not be here today, as my heart may not have survived under that extra 20kg (44 lbs) of pressure. I will never take my health or body for granted and am thankful that I had such a great support network of friends and family during a trying time.
- Take Home Messages
- Blood clots do not discriminate. Young, healthy people get blood clots
- Hormonal birth control is a risk factor for blood clots, especially if you have a genetic clotting disorder, such as Prothrombin G20210A
- Most people do not know they have a genetic clotting disorder until they have a blood clot or a second blood clot, and get tested, as happened to Victoria Fisher
- There are several different kinds of genetic clotting disorders in addition to Factor V Leiden
- Having a blood clot increases your risk of having another one
- Young women need to be made more aware of the symptoms of a DVT, as it could happen to anyone
- If you have calf pain that doesn’t go away, see a doctor
- If you have a racing heart with calf pain and any other symptoms, such as light headedness, it could be a PE and that is a life threatening medical emergency
- Support from family and friends is so important while surviving a blood clot
- Surviving a blood clot is a life changing experience