On a warm, Texas September day in 2010, Kara King hopped in the shower and began shaving her legs when she realized the leg she was trying to lift wouldn’t budge.
Instead, it turned a greyish purple color and swelled to three times its normal size, her ankle and knee disappearing in the process.
King was suffering from a massive blood clot in the leg caused by her progesterone-based birth control.
A few weeks earlier, then-28-year-old King felt a cramp in her leg. But she brushed it off, thinking she had overdone in it aerobics class.
Until she woke up in the middle of the night a few
days later with a sharp pain in
“It felt like I was being stabbed,” she recalled. She was having trouble breathing, so she went to her family care physician, who diagnosed her with a pinched nerve and prescribed her muscle relaxants.
But the muscle relaxants didn’t kick in, and she found herself in the emergency room the morning of that fateful shower with a diagnosis of a full leg deep vein thrombosis. A blood clot the size of golf ball was blocking blood from flowing through the femoral vein, starting behind her belly button in the iliac vein and moving down the left side of her body, into the femoral vein and down to her ankle. She also had multiple bilateral blood clots in her lungs—pieces of the clot that had broken away from the one in her leg.
“There’s basically a wreck or a traffic jam across the big highway of her veins,” King’s vascular surgeon, Dr. Jeffery Apple, explained. In this case, the cause of the wreck is the blood clot, which sat in her calf, causing blood to pool with nowhere to go.
The ER staff told King’s husband to say goodbye. The doctors didn’t expect her to live through the hour.
But she made it past the hour, and the next day, and the day after that. She was placed in ICU for a week, pumped full of blood thinners and then sent home, where she could do nothing but lie down and elevate her leg.
The clot that formed in her femoral vein, that will never fully disappear, can be likened to pouring cement into a tube and allowing it to harden. The blood thinners are then poured into the tube, shrinking the wall of cement and forming a tiny hole in the tube so the blood can pass through.
King couldn’t walk for three months following her discharge from the ICU.
When the swelling in King’s leg hadn’t reduced as much as both she and her doctor would have liked, she sought the help of Apple.
He performed an ethinography, sending a camera deep into her vascular system to find
While King lay awake but sedated, Apple placed three metal stints into her veins to open them up and allow more blood to flow. King felt relief right away.
“I remember waking up from that procedure and already feeling like somebody had loosened the tourniquette on my leg,” she said.
More than six years later, King will always be at risk for blood clots. And she isn’t alone in receiving this diagnosis. According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, 274 people a day die from blood clots, a number the NBCA is trying to reduce.
Apple says the most common symptoms of a blood clot include pain, swelling and discoloration of the leg.
Risk factors include your age, whether you’ve been sedentary for too long, such as on a long flight or car ride, and whether you’re on a progesterone-based birth control.
“The most important thing, once you’re diagnosed with a blood clot, is education,” Apple said. “People need to be instructed on how to treat this. They need to see a doctor who specializes in this.”