Nearly three years after suffering a pulmonary embolism and six blood clots in her leg veins following routine knee surgery, Amy Fordham-Duff is still healing. But thanks to a small army of loving, supportive family, friends and health and wellness specialists, she’s winning her battle.
“I never could have imagined the trauma this has caused, the feeling that you’re going to die, you’re never going to see your kids again,” said Fordham-Duff. “I’ll be taking special precautions to prevent clots for the rest of my life, and I’m not sure I’ll ever trust my body again. As long as the physical healing has been, the emotional healing is by far the hardest.”
On Oct. 13, World Thrombosis Day, she’s telling her story to help others understand the often hidden risks and dangers of thrombosis, a potentially deadly blood clot that forms in your artery or vein.
Thrombosis is the underlying condition that causes the world’s top three cardiovascular killers: heart attack, stroke and venous thromboembolism. VTE includes deep vein thrombosis, when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. And it includes pulmonary embolism, when the clot breaks off and travels from the leg up to the lungs.
Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to reducing deaths and complications from blood clots. For Fordham-Duff, that diagnosis didn’t come for nearly three weeks after her surgery. She credits the nurse at her primary care doctor’s office for saving her life.
“When she said, ‘Amy, you might have a blood clot, please go to the ER now,’ I couldn’t believe it,” Fordham-Duff, 44, said. “I had no idea I was even at risk, and especially not so long after surgery.”
Surgery — especially knee or hip surgery and certain surgeries for cancer — puts people at more risk for VTE. Other risk factors include:
- Overweight/Obesity – the higher your weight the higher your risk
- Hospitalization – blood clots in the legs or lungs are the leading cause of preventable hospitals deaths;
- Immobility – not moving for long periods of time, including bed rest and extended travel on long car or plane trips;
- A family history of blood clots;
- Use of estrogen-based medication such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy;
- Pregnancy or recently giving birth.
A study published recently worldwide in five leading thrombosis journals, including Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, shows that VTE is a global disease.
In Europe, half a million people die from VTE each year – more than the combined death total from AIDS, breast and prostate cancer and highway accidents. In the U.S., 100,000 to 300,000 individuals die due to VTE each year. In addition, VTE is associated with more than 500,000 hospitalizations.
“The statistics are staggering, people all over the world are dying from a condition that can often be prevented,” said Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., a member of the American Heart Association board, professor of medicine at the University of Vermont and director of the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Program at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont. “Talk to your doctor about your own risks for blood clots and how to reduce those. Sometimes this involves medication, but getting to a normal weight, regular exercise and a heart healthy diet are very important in preventing these types of clots.”
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