Thursday, March 18, 2010

March is DVT Awareness Month

DVT stands for Deep Vein Thrombosis. Click here to assess your risk for DVT.

My personal experience with DVT occurred in September 2004. I developed a severe case of cellulitis in my legs and was admitted to the hospital. Because the symptoms of a DVT are similar to those of cellulitis doctors typically ordered an ultrasound of my legs to “rule out DVT”. Now for those of you, who think the pressure of an ultrasound is uncomfortable, imagine that pressure when your legs are in burning pain. So during this particular ultrasound I hear the tech say “no venous flow”. I asked her if I had a clot and she replied “the doctor has to give you the results”. Well of course I knew enough that “no venous flow” meant there was a blood clot and as soon as I was taken back to my room the doctor came in can confirmed. I had both cellulitis and a DVT in my left leg. I was given heparin and antibiotics via IV and was in the hospital for 10 days.

That was just the beginning….

Two months later, I had been cleared to receive compression therapy for my lymphedema. One morning as I drove to my appointment the entire left side of my face felt numb. I told this to my occupational therapists and I could tell by their response something was wrong. They were concerned if I would be able to safely drive back to work. I assured them I was o.k. and promised to call my doctor. I called the doctor when I got back to my office. Her office partner told me to go the ER if the symptoms did not improve, but given my age and that I was on Coumadin, she did suspect a stroke.

The symptoms went away so I didn’t worry.

Until a few months later when I woke up and my right arm felt like it was asleep and nothing I did would make it “wake up”. I went to my doctor and she ordered a CT scan of my head. The scan showed evidence of a stroke, but in the right side of my brain, so since strokes affect the opposite side of the body it was still unclear what was happening. My doctor referred me to a neurologist.

The neurologist suspected the episodes were TIAs (Trans ischemic attack) or mini-stroke. Thankfully, this was after I had lost nearly 200lbs or I’m sure things would have been much worse. Next, the neurologist ordered blood work, ultrasounds of the vessels in my head and neck and a consult with a cardiologist.

I tested negative for Factor v Leiden, which I knew I would, my family are bleeders not clotters. After a full blood work up I tested negative for any clotting issue.

The ultrasounds all came back clear. My vessels were fine. However, the shunt study showed that tiny saline bubbles injected into my veins were traveling to my brain.

Tiny bubbles….

Were crossing through a hole in my heart, bypassing my lungs and going straight to my brain. Just like the tiny little blood clot did. This was all confirmed by the cardiologist, who did an echo cardiogram and also injected tiny saline bubbles and saw them cross from one chamber of my heart to another.

I was 28 years old and they were just discovering that I was born with PFO (patent foramen ovale) a hole in my heart.

Thankfully, after further consultation among all my doctors the hole was easily closed with a tiny screen via a catheter.

It took nearly a year for the hole to completely heal over. I have several more bubble studies, until finally one day there were no more tiny blips on the screen which indicated bubbles. I was so relieved I broke in tears. It had been a nearly 18 month ordeal.

I am thankful that today everything is “normal”. I will always be at higher risk for blood clot and the numerous infections have damaged the vessels and valves in my legs. However, my neurologist and cardiologist have given me a clean bill of health and say I’m at no higher risk of a stroke than any other person of my weight and age…wait is that good?

I take a daily aspirin, stay hydrated, and take extra precaution when flying or taking long car rides. While the ordeal was quite scary at times, I now look at it as a blessing in disguise. Had I not had the DVT and TIA, the PFO would have not been discovered and closed.

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