Survivor Spotlight with Gary H. Steadman

                                       Half Marathon Finish Line Photo
At 54 yrs of age, I was more healthy than I’d been in decades. or so I thought. What I didn’t know was my life was at greater risk than ever before. Four years earlier I’d made significant changes to improve my health and quality of life. I began exercising consistently, changed my diet, lost 50 pounds and transformed blood test results from ugly to spotless. It all worked fabulously and yet, my life was in grave danger with every breath and heartbeat. I had no idea what was happening, none.
The end of October marks my one year anniversary from the moment my world suddenly changed. I should say my awareness suddenly changed because what was happening in my body took time and developed slowly. It was late October of last year that I found myself desperately short of breath. I couldn’t climb stairs. I’d been fighting for what I thought was a cold for weeks, over eight weeks to be exact. The cough I told everyone would go away in time, was getting so severe I could barely breathe without having a coughing fit. I’d made three visits to the doctor, gone through every prescribed course of treatment and was only getting worse.
At the same time, I was limping along with knee pain. A pain I believed came from my running. I’d trained for weeks in preparation for an early September Half Marathon. With distance training, for me anyways, has always had some form of pain somewhere and the pain in my knee wasn’t new at all. This time it couldn’t be soothed in the usual ways with icing it down, stretching, foam rollers or even deep tissue massage. I completed that Half Marathon in early September. Knowing what I know now, I feel fortunate I made it to the finish line alive.
My wife had seen what was going on with my health but it wasn’t till late October, when I shared one more symptom with her, we decided I had to get to the hospital. The leg with knee pain was now swelling and the pain extended from my ankle up to mid-thigh. We were received at the hospital ER rather routinely, checked in and waited three hours till a room was available. The nurse ran us through the routine of questions and examined my leg and lungs for the coughing. From there, things got a little crazy.
This ER nurse was an angel. Although she wouldn’t say so directly, she knew what was going on right from the start. She pressed for quick action in getting specialists in to see me, tests ordered and processed. Over the course of the next few hours, I would see no less than five different specialists. They ran round after round of blood tests, x-rays, EKG, ultrasounds, CT scans, more CT scans. It was a long night and very much a blur.
My diagnosis was Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in five separate major veins of my right leg extending from ankle through hip. On top of that, the CT scans confirmed extensive Pulmonary Embolisms (PE) in both my lungs and in all lobes. There’s not a lot of detail I recall from this blur of a night but a few things that I do recall clearly are numerous medical professionals reviewing my case and shared I was “very lucky to be here”. I don’t recall any doctor willing to state I’d be ok, just that they’ll do everything they can to help me. The Pulmonologist, reviewing my chest CT started to count the PE’s then stopped because there were too many to count. His comment was, “It looks like a snowstorm, this’s impressive!”. I really didn’t want to be, impressive.
For the next four days, I would be in Critical Care. I was administered Heparin by IV to stop further clotting. We reviewed numerous potential avenues to resolve the clots in my leg and my lungs. Ultimately, we were advised, my situation was so extensive any invasive action which could be taken would put me in even greater danger (of a terminal event).  We’ll use medication to stop the clotting and the rest is up to my body’s natural healing processes. In time, that’s exactly what has happened. My body has largely healed itself. My leg is still not what I would consider normal, but it’s 95% and that may be my new normal.
All that being said I have to be honest, this is where things actually got difficult for me. This was, and still is, an emotional roller coaster like I’ve never before experienced. For me, this was the first time I’ve been convinced I was truly facing my pending mortality. The challenge of this and the changes it brought on an emotional level have been something I simply didn’t see coming. This is very hard to share and something I’ve pondered countless times in the last few months. I don’t see many addressing this side of what’s happened to them, the emotional impact, and that’s part of the problem. You can feel very alone even though you’re not. So if you’ve been through this or something similar and that roller coaster is hitting you hard, know you’re not alone.
To survive a day you’re absolutely convinced was to be your last, profoundly changes your outlook on everything. EVERYTHING.
I can’t think of a better way to characterize the impact of this event. It can be a good thing. There are highs on the roller coaster I refer to above. You appreciate everything in new and more powerful ways. Your family, music, the spring air, fall colors, a baby’s cry (even if it’s in the airplane seat behind you). You have less time for things that waste your time and more time for things that don’t. There are countless cliche’s I could rattle off here but what I’ve come away with is this. At my one year anniversary of this life event, I can appreciate this year which might not have been. Better than that though, knowing my risks means I have a better shot at enjoying many more to come and I’ll be savoring every bit of it.
Learn the symptoms of thrombosis and your personal risks. One day it could save your life or the life of someone you love.
To Survive a Day...

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