In 2012, Lisa Broxmeyer had just returned home from dropping her first son off at college when she went to the doctor for a pre-op exam to prepare for routine surgery.
As the appointment wrapped up, the nurse asked if anything was bothering her. Lisa mentioned that she felt a cramp in her left calf, but thought it was probably caused by a long walk she’d taken earlier.
Thankfully, that nurse wasn’t taking any risks. She sent Lisa to the emergency room for a sonogram, which revealed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) — a blood clot — blocking a vessel in her calf.
Lisa was shocked — all she had felt was what seemed like a pulled muscle and a slightly swollen ankle. The ER nurses taught Lisa how to give herself shots of an anticoagulant medication, and her surgery was postponed by three months.
There was no real explanation for Lisa’s DVT. She had recently flown a few hours to and from her son’s school, and had varicose veins. Both can encourage clots by reducing blood flow in the legs, but would not be expected to cause a DVT on their own. Doctors found nothing when they ran genetic tests to see if she had any inherited predisposition to clotting.
Three months later, Lisa had her originally scheduled surgery, taking anticoagulants for a few weeks afterward to make sure all was well. However, about two years after the surgery she began feeling short of breath while walking and had moments of dizziness and feeling lightheaded. These symptoms were accompanied by a cough, so Lisa figured it was a lingering chest cold.
One day, Lisa received a phone call, and the person on the other end asked why she had been running for the phone, thinking she sounded out of breath. The comment set off a light bulb and prompted Lisa to call her cardiologist.
Lisa's cardioligist gave her an ultrasound test that found elevated blood pressure in the arteries of her lungs. Her cardiologist referred her to a pulmonologist, who believed Lisa was suffering from a pulmonary embolism (PE), a clot blocking the arteries feeding the lungs. Untreated, PE can be fatal.
Lisa drove herself to the emergency room. After a five-hour wait, nurses there gave her a D-dimer test, which revealed elevated levels of a protein fragment that is produced when a blood clot is present in the body. Lisa was immediately sent for a CT scan that indicated she had PEs affecting both lungs.
Lisa was put back on anticoagulants, and had more tests to see if she might have cancer or a genetic abnormality. All came back negative. After Lisa was released from the hospital, she underwent cardiac rehabilitation for three months to address the damage the PEs had caused.
Lisa knows she must stay on anticoagulants for life. She tries to stay active to keep her circulation flowing, and is much more cautious about cutting herself or hitting her head because blood thinners make it difficult to stop bleeding.
Lisa’s experience with blood clots has changed her life, but she is thankful she received treatment soon enough to prevent any more serious damage or impacts on her health. She is especially thankful for all the love and support of her husband and sons.