Breaking Free from DVT
Diana Patterson sometimes wishes she could turn back the clock to the beginning of 2007 and start over.
That was when she first experienced deep vein thrombosis — a blood clot that develops in a vein deep in the body and has the potential to be deadly if the clot breaks free, travels through the bloodstream and becomes lodged in the lungs' blood vessels, known as a pulmonary embolism.
It all started a few weeks after having foot surgery, in January of 2007, when the 56-year-old Toledo, Ohio, resident was given an inflatable boot to wear on her right leg. The height of the boot was right at the bend of her knee, and she soon started having pain behind the knee. She couldn't get her leg into a comfortable position, no matter what she tried.
A Doppler test revealed that blood clots had traveled to her lungs. A Greenfield filter was put in place to protect her from additional clots traveling, and she was started on anticoagulants. She remained on the medications until September 2007, when her primary care physician decided she no longer needed them.
Fast forward to February 2008, when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a form of cancer — and started radiation and prescription therapy, using a drug whose side effects included blood clots. Within months, she had developed symptoms of DVT again: a lot of pain in her leg, difficulty breathing and exhaustion after very little exertion.
“I could not walk for more than one or two minutes without feeling like I would pass out,” she recalls.
More tests showed that clots again had moved to her lungs, despite the filter. Again she was placed on anticoagulants. Recovery was very slow, and the pain and shortness of breath continued.
She remained on an anticoagulant until she was preparing for a stem cell transplant in December 2008. Her local oncologist referred her to Edward Copelan, MD, at Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute. During the week of her stem cell harvesting, she developed a spleen bleed, which required that she stop taking anticoagulants. After returning home from Cleveland Clinic, she again developed DVT. She was experiencing extensive swelling in both legs and horrible pain. Again, the clots had moved to her lungs.
Enter Cleveland Clinic Section Head of Vascular Medicine John Bartholomew, MD. His treatment involved anticoagulants, elevating her legs and compression stockings.
After returning home to Toledo, she was followed daily by Dr. Bartholomew as he reviewed her blood tests results via faxes from her local health care provider. He then would call her with adjustments to the medication dosage when necessary.
“He calls me almost daily,” Mrs. Patterson says. “He even was out of town for a trip on a weekend … and he actually called me on a Sunday when he got back to town. He is awesome. He took good care of me.”
Though it takes time for the medication to reduce the clots, and she still endures some pain and tenderness in the meantime, the medical condition is on the mend. She went from being unable to help around the house or even walk to doing some grocery shopping and going up and down stairs.
“After Dr. Bartholomew treated me, it took several weeks before I could get up and do things, but, it did get better.”