t age 49, Ellie Brady of Burlington,
Vermont, was the picture of health.
Patrick’s wife and Emma’s mother,
she was training for a half marathon.
On a nine-mile training run she got
out of breath. ‘I must be getting
old,’ she thought, but she was concerned enough that she
visited two doctors during the following week, both of
whom dismissed the symptom because she was a runner
and obviously fit.
But as the week progressed so did her symptoms — back
pain, chest pain, uncontrollable chills — until she could no
longer ignore them. With intense pain in her right upper
back radiating into her chest, she drove herself to the ER,
where she was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism (PE),
which is a blood clot in the lungs. The pain in her back had
been caused by a clot in her right lung.
A PE is a type of venous thromboembolism (VTE),
which is what blood clots in veins (rather than arteries) are
called. PEs don’t form in the lungs, rather the clot forms in
the extremities, mostly the thigh, and travels through the
veins and heart to the lungs. This blockage can permanently
injure the affected lung, lowering the blood’s oxygen level
and potentially damaging other organs by starving them of
oxygen. In Ellie’s case, she did lose some lung tissue, but
her other organs were not affected.
Ellie’s doctors did tests to determine what caused her PE.
Their investigation determined that she had three significant
risk factors for VTE: 1) she had a genetic clotting disorder;
2) she was taking hormones for menopause; and 3) she was
more sedentary as the result of a new job.
“We were shocked and surprised,” Ellie said. “My friends
and family couldn’t believe it because I don’t drink or
smoke, I eat well and exercise regularly.”
Running is a big part of Ellie’s life so her first question
for the medical team was “when can I run again? Of course,
their goal was to keep me alive. This is when they told
me the statistics and explained how lucky I was just to be
alive,” she said. “It started off with ‘when can I run again’
and turned into ‘will I die?’” she remembered. The National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that a third of
patients left untreated will die. The majority of people who
die from a PE do so within a few hours of it happening.
Although her clotting disorder, called Factor V Leiden,
was news to her, she felt relief with the diagnosis. “Once I
knew my risk factors, I felt like I had gained some control,”
she said. “There were things I could do about it. I’ll always
have the blood mutation, but I stopped taking hormones and
switched my job.”
But that was the easy stuff. “Emotionally I was a mess,”
she said. Every chest pain stimulated a doctor or ER visit,
where another PE was ruled out. She was convinced any
leg pains were another clot breaking free to travel through
her heart to her lungs. “After multiple trips to the ER, my
By Jon Caswell
Living in the Wake of a