• Mary Kay Ballasiotes

    Twenty years ago, I had four risk factors for VTE, but I didn’t know it. I was 39 and pregnant with our third child. This was considered a high-risk pregnancy because my husband and I had been told at 29 weeks gestation that our baby had enlarged brain ventricles and would most likely have hydrocephalus. Then at 35 weeks into the pregnancy, I fell and broke my foot. Unfortunately, the break was severe enough to need surgery and I couldn’t walk on it. Our baby girl would have to be delivered early, preferably via the birth canal. Unfortunately, induction was not successful and baby Michelle was born one day shy of 36 weeks via c-section. Michelle’s pre-diagnosis of hydrocephalus was confirmed, and she would need brain surgery. However, her lungs were not developed so her surgery would have to wait.Meanwhile, I was still completely immobilized. That factor, along with having given birth, having a surgery and being in the hospital put me at high risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE). Although I was completely unaware of this.
    Two days after my c-section and BEFORE my foot surgery, I was lying in my hospital bed and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my chest. I couldn’t take a deep breath without experiencing pain and couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I had no idea what this was, but I thought it was something I should mention to doctor on call. Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t seem too concerned because he told me I was on heparin (a blood thinner) so I should be fine. I had no idea what that meant, but I focused on the “you should be fine”.
    My foot surgery was scheduled on the fourth day after my c-section and it went well. Michelle had had her brain surgery the previous day and it was discovered that she had suffered a stroke before she was born and that is what caused her hydrocephalus. We were told that it was “good news” she had had an “event” and it wasn’t a birth defect. With everything going on, we again chose to focus on words “good news”.Between the two of us, we had endured three surgeries but were both ready to go home five days after Michelle’s birth. Or so we thought. As we were packing things up to leave, I was in my wheelchair and I suddenly felt muscle pain in the calf of the leg that had not had the surgery. It almost felt like there was a very large marble in there and I had overused my muscles. Of course, this was impossible as I hadn’t walked since I broke my foot. Again, I felt that this was something I should mention to the doctors and when I described what I was feeling, the doctors looked panicked. I didn’t know what was wrong, but the doctors had an idea. DVT, deep vein thrombosis, better known as blood clots in my leg. I had an ultrasound to confirm the DVT and at that point I reminded them of the pain I had felt in my chest in between my surgeries. The orthopedic surgeons had not been aware that I had complained about pain in my chest during my hospital stay, but they now knew that I had had PE, pulmonary embolism, blood clots in my lungs. Having blood clots before a surgery was very risky and I was told I could have died or had a stroke during my foot surgery. I was one of the lucky ones that survived DVT + PE which I know now was VTE, venous thromboembolism.
    Luckily, I spoke up about my symptoms because I was able to get treatment. It did mean Michelle and I had to stay in the hospital for another week. It also meant I could not lower my legs, not even to dangle them over the bed. I had a compression stocking on the leg that didn’t have the surgery and I was on strong blood thinners. Michelle had recovered faster from her brain surgery than I had from being immobilized.Today, Michelle and I are both doing well. Michelle has right hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, but she has learned to not let it limit her life. I have not had any more issues with blood clots since that time 20 years ago, although I now make sure my doctors know that I have a history of VTE. I am also aware of the pain I felt in my chest and leg and will speak up if I ever feel that again. I now know that VTE is a serious condition and I have the honor of being the AHA’s VTE Ambassador. I would encourage anyone that is being hospitalized and having surgery to ask for a VTE assessment. Also, if have any of the symptoms of blood clots in your legs or lungs, seek medical help immediately.
    Blood clots are preventable and treatable, but they can also be deadly.

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