I’m going to start with a little on myself. I’m April and I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for 12 years (13 years in July). He was in the Army until he medically retired just short of 12 years. We have 2 little girls who are ages 4 and 7. I just started homeschooling them last year. I was born and raised in Texas, but lived in nearly every state in the South. Somehow we ended up in Alaska. I never knew I liked going camping, hiking, whale watching or sledding until we moved here 3 years ago. We live in a lovely little town that is surrounded by mountains.
I have to go back nearly 6 years to explain how my life changed. May 28th, 2011 I knew something was wrong with me. My husband, my daughter and I planned a trip home to Texas. I searched for the cheapest airline tickets. The cheapest flight I could find would fly out of Jacksonville, FL, have a layover in Charlotte, NC and then continue to Houston, Texas. It was an hour and a half drive to the Jacksonville airport from where we lived at the time, which was Savannah, Georgia. Total travel time from Savannah to our destination north of Houston was about 6 hours. I purchased one way tickets because we would be driving the truck I bought for my husband back to Georgia.
While in Texas I had a great lack of energy. I would drink a Frappuccino and fall asleep. I was even taking diet pills with caffeine. We had time to visit with all of our family and friends. The last few days of our visit we headed up to the Dallas area to relax by the lake with my in-laws. I couldn’t relax. The whole time I was there I couldn’t breathe. I blamed it on allergies since I was in an unfamiliar area. One night I woke up to go to the bathroom and I felt light headed, nauseous, and went into a cold sweat and I just laid down on the bathroom floor. I’ve had similar issues when I was losing weight and I blamed it on blood sugar fluctuations. The next day I was walking up the stairs and I felt like I was going to pass out. I made it to the bed and I just stayed in the bed. At that point my heart was racing and I couldn’t breathe. I blamed it on some weird allergy/asthma attack. I have not been diagnosed with asthma, but I always scored very low on breathing tests and I have a rescue inhaler. I was taking advice and trying to treat it like it was asthma. I took a hot shower and I started coughing and I couldn’t stop. I wanted to go to the emergency room, but we were in the middle of nowhere and it was quite a drive to a hospital. We were leaving for home the next day so I waited. The only time I had ever gone to the ER before was when my chest hurt while pregnant with my daughter. That ended up being heartburn. If I’m not pregnant I never go to the ER. I stayed in the bed until we left for home. We made the terrible decision to drive the whole 1000 miles without staying in a hotel. We drove all night. I don’t even know how many hours in the car that was, maybe 16 hours, or more.
Once we got home I ignored any symptoms I had. I tried walking, swimming, biking. I would always get out of breath. Before moving to Savannah in mid March I was incredibly active. I had just lost 20 pounds and I went on frequent bike rides. My bike rides would be up to 14 miles. I thought I was terribly out of shape because I couldn’t even go a mile without huffing and puffing and stopping to take a breath.
I finally decided to make an appointment with my doctor. He did an EKG because my heart rate was 120 bpm. The oxygen rate in my blood was 98%. He said nothing was wrong with me and it was just the caffeine in the diet pills I was taking, even though I had already been taking them for 6 weeks. He declared it was “caffeine overdose” and I had to wait until it was out of my system. So I spent the next day in the bed. My heart was racing up to 140 bpm and was not slowing down. I couldn’t walk the few feet to my bathroom without my heart rate going even higher and completely running out of breath. I couldn’t even stand up long enough to get dressed so I could go to the store. I called the doctor’s office and the doctor on call said I should go to urgent care or the emergency room. I decided to go to urgent care. I didn’t rush. I sat down and ate my dinner and then my husband drove me down there. The urgent care doctor came out quickly and said my symptoms were so severe and they didn’t have the equipment to treat me. He said I needed to go to the ER. They checked my blood pressure sitting and standing. While standing my heart rate was up to 150 bpm.
I heard the sirens pull up. They had called an ambulance to take me to the hospital. They got me on a stretcher and I will never forget seeing my little girl’s face when she was crying about Mommy being wheeled away. She was only a little over a year and a half at that time. I was taken to the ambulance not knowing what was going on. I’ve had rapid heart rate problems before, but that was only one incident after I had my appendix removed during emergency surgery 10 years prior. I thought maybe they would give me medicine to slow my heart rate. I had been on Propanolol before.
I was in bad shape once I reached the hospital. My heart rate was higher than ever. I could hardly walk to the bathroom. I was in the ER alone. I had left my cell phone behind. I borrowed a nurse’s cell phone and told my husband to take our daughter to the pastor’s house. He had kids our daughter’s age. My husband was able to stay with me for a little while. I had blood work done and the results from that gave them an idea of what the problem was. I was sent to have a chest X-ray, and a CT scan. Once the CT scan came back they knew for sure what was wrong. I had multiple blood clots in both lungs. They were so massive they started going into the right side of my heart. The doctors were baffled and everyone kept saying “you’re so young”. Pulmonary Embolisms were not something they expected a 27 year old woman to have. 1 in 3 people will die from a Pulmonary Embolism. When one doctor said I could have died I just burst into tears. It truly hit me. I didn’t know how to deal with that. After several hours in the ER I was taken to a room sometime in the middle of the night. I was in a step up from ICU while they determined if I needed a “clot buster”. That is where they go in and break up the clots. The main Pulmonologist wanted to avoid that because he said I could have a stroke as a side effect.
They had me on a constant Heparin drip through my I.V. I was not allowed to get out of bed for days. I had migraines and I developed a painful cough while I was there. I was given morphine for pain and a breathing treatment to calm my cough. I was in the hospital from a Saturday until a Tuesday. They did an ultrasound on my legs the day I was released to make sure there were not any DVT’s. I had no sign of clotting in my legs. They are unsure where the clots originated. They think it was a combination of MTHFR, plus hormonal birth control, plus the long trip.
Once released from the hospital it was a long, slow, frustrating recovery. I had to take it day by day. I had to use the motorized cart at Walmart for a while since I would still get out of breath just walking. Even standing up to put a half gallon of milk in my cart would knock the wind out of me. My Mom had flown in immediately and stayed for a little while, and then my husband’s grandparents drove from Texas and stayed. I needed all the help I could get. I couldn’t do the dishes, or laundry, or anything I normally did on a regular basis. It took at least a month to start returning to my daily routines. Even then I was only slowly recovering. 3 months later I was beginning to walk again, but I couldn’t walk very far without losing my breath. I would eventually be able to walk 2 miles.
When I write my story I don’t think of myself. I’m thinking of the other survivors out there. I know how they feel. When it first happens you are in shock, you’re terrified, you’re anxious and a lot of times depressed. As you start healing you realize no one understands what you’re going through. It can be incredibly frustrating. I realized I wasn’t alone. We all struggle with different things and we all heal at our own pace. When you look back thank God you survived to breathe another breath, and you lived to celebrate another day.
When thinking about sharing my story I wanted to bring my story up to date. What has happened since 2011? I had my youngest daughter in 2012 and continued on Lovenox even after the pregnancy. I was on twice daily injections for 2 years until I finally discussed with a new Hematologist about Xarelto in 2013. I was scared about it not having an antidote and being new on the market for clotting at the time. I was so bruised up from the Lovenox I was willing to try anything besides Coumadin. I haven’t had a single problem or bad side effect with Xarelto. It’s been confirmed by several Hematologists in several states that I’m on blood thinners for life due to the severity of my clots.
I’ve had a lot of bumps in the road with my health. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2014. It was right before then I had started getting recurrent bronchitis. It’s something I’ve been dealing with every winter. I get out my nebulizer and do at home breathing treatments. I finally saw a Neurologist in 2016 for migraines and constant headaches. I had suffered from them for at least 8 years prior. I’ve had wonderful success with my new medication. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle between insurance, seeing doctors and balancing medications. There’s ups and downs. I don’t let it get me down. In 2 days I’m celebrating the day I got a second chance. The day I got to live again. The day I got to keep breathing. The day I became a survivor.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26 NIV
Thanks Lisa. Love you hun!!