Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Sam Perry first felt a sharp pain in her right leg and lower back while pulling herself out of the pool during a swim meet. The intensity of it was almost immobilizing, but she forced herself to compete again the next day, swimming poorly and struggling to breathe.
It was weeks before Sam learned that she had a large deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which remains a source of chronic pain and health concerns 20 years later. Her condition also became a calling: Sam now works as the Marketing Campaign Manager for World Thrombosis Day’s founding organization, the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH).
An otherwise fit, 19-year-old Division I swimmer, Sam kept practicing through the pain in the week after she first felt it in her leg and back. She went to see her team doctor, who couldn’t find anything wrong. But she kept coughing up large amounts of blood and had trouble sleeping.
After two weeks, Sam’s friend Kelly dragged her to an urgent care center, where the doctor immediately sent her to the emergency room. At the hospital, Sam’s pain worsened and her right leg swelled to twice the size of her left, prompting the emergency room doctor to give her a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The image revealed an enormous blood clot.
Because Sam had waited so long to seek help, her options were limited. There was a risk she could lose her leg, or even die.
Sam’s parents were called, and they gave the vascular surgeon at the hospital permission to give her recombinant urokinase, a drug that breaks up clots. When that failed, surgeons began to remove Sam’s blood clot, which reached from her hip to her shin. They managed to remove all but four inches, a stretch of blocked vein that still remains in Sam’s body today.
After the surgery, Sam thought her swimming career was over. But after going on blood thinners and wearing what she calls a ‘ho’— a support stocking — she worked incredibly hard to regain her stamina, and swam well enough during her last year at East Carolina University to be nationally ranked.
Eventually Sam’s doctors told her she was safe enough to go off blood thinners. But ten years after enduring her initial clot she suffered another DVT, and several pulmonary embolisms (PEs) formed when fragments of the clot traveled through her bloodstream from her leg to her lungs. The new clot had built up around the four inches of blocked vein the vascular surgeons left behind, and destroyed the new vessels that had formed to route blood around it.
Sam went back on blood thinners, and since that second clot she wears her ‘ho’ constantly. With determination to keep active and despite chronic leg pain, Sam has completed multiple marathons, teaches cycling classes, and loves recreational scuba diving. She considers her active lifestyle one of the main factors in her survival and successful recovery.
For 20 years, Sam thought she was the only one who had endured such an experience. But through working with the World Thrombosis Day campaign she has met countless others whose stories are similar to her own.
Knowing there are other people who have gone through what she has motivates Sam to support the World Thrombosis Day campaign every day and make sure that no survivor of thrombosis feels alone.