On February 21, 2016, I was training to run Vermont’s Unplugged half-marathon. I was doing a 9-mile run with friends when I became uncharacteristically and extremely short of breath. It was nothing I had every experienced before. I continued running and thought, “Wow, I’m getting too old for this!”
As the week went by, my symptoms worsened. It got so bad that I finally drove myself to the ER with extremely bad right upper back pain that was radiating into my chest. I also had uncontrollable chills. What happened next shocked me: my ER doctor diagnosed me with a pulmonary embolism. I had already visited two doctors during the week, but my condition was hard to diagnose because I presented as a fit, healthy runner.
During my hospital stay, my doctors and care team were determined to find out how I could have developed a pulmonary embolism. I did not meet any of the criteria for it, but we found that I had what the doctors called “The Big 3.”
- I had factor V Leiden, a blood mutation that makes you more likely to clot.
- I was on birth control pills for menopause.
- I had changed to more sedentary job.
I was a ticking time bomb! My doctors told me that running I did probably saved my life. My heart was stressed all week and with a less capable set of lungs and heart I might have had a different outcome. When they started talking statistics, it was evident I was lucky to be alive.
I was released on blood thinners and directed to use them for six months. I had strict orders to walk only. I had extreme anxiety when I left the hospital. I was coughing up blood and still had significant back pain. The clot I had in my right lung was large and had started to kill the lung tissue around it. This was the pain I was feeling. I also experienced anxiety and constant worry. I regularly called my primary doctor’s office to get assurance that everything I was feeling was normal. I went back to the ER when I coughed up a moderate amount of blood. I was scared – all the time about every symptom and possibilty. I had a leg cramp and was convinced I had another DVT going through my heart again. My husband and doctors were great in talking me off ledges.
Then I had a breakthrough. I started to feel well enough to walk. My body was so used to running. It’s what I needed mentally and physically. At first, I did not walk far from home. Then, I ventured farther. I’d walk for hours. I asked the doctors if I could start running. They told me to listen to my body. I am happy to report I was able to run the last leg of the Vermont City Marathon this year (Special thanks to Jess Cover,Director of Marketing and Communications for RunVermont, and RunVermont for making this happen! I wouldn’t have been able to run it without her support). After doing that, I feel unstoppable! I have signed up for more races in the near future.
I beat the clot and I’m going to make it.
Ellie Brady works at Animal Hospital of Hinesburg as a receptionist. She lives with her husband, Pat in South Burlington, Vermont. She is the proud mother of Emma Brady, who lives in California.