"From High-Energy to Hospitalized in Less Than a Week"
So many great things were happening in my life in October of 2006. My consulting
company, Velvet Hammer Media, was up and running. I was covering Sunday Night Baseball
and college football for ABC/ESPN and had done some fill-in hosting for Jim Rome’s
show, "Rome Is Burning." I was surrounded by so many positive and supportive people
at work, I actually remember thinking to myself, "Finally, everything is starting
to fall into place." That’s why I was devastated the day I was rushed to the hospital
for deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).
The First Symptoms
I had been feeling pain in the upper part of my left leg for a week. I figured I
had pulled a muscle in the gym, so I took some ibuprofen, iced the leg and blew
it off. After 14 years of gymnastics, I’d grown accustomed to this routine for all
sorts of bumps and bruises and assumed this was no different. I had no idea I was
experiencing symptoms of DVT. After all, I’ve worked out my entire life, eat well,
rarely drink alcohol, and don’t smoke. Who would have thought someone like me would
be a candidate for a serious medical condition?
Things came to a head Saturday, October 6, in Dallas, where I was covering the annual
football showdown between Texas and Oklahoma. After the game, I was scrambling to
catch a plane, but when you exit the Cotton Bowl, you’re thrust into the middle
of the mob scene officially known as the Texas State Fair. The best escape plan
entailed running nearly a mile to the car with two of my colleagues. I plowed through
the crowd, but my left leg quickly became fatigued, my calf started cramping up
and I was suddenly short of breath. I made it to the car on sheer adrenaline, but
once it wore off, I realized this was much more than a muscle pull.
Tests Reveal Blood Clots
At 6:40 Monday morning, I went to see Dr. John Schneider, the physical therapist
who had helped me rehab a hamstring injury the previous summer. I had nicknamed
him "The Miracle Man," but unfortunately, he couldn’t work his magic this time.
The next morning, not only did the inside of my thigh hurt even more, but the front
and back of my left knee were completely swollen. Dr. Schneider told me to stay
off it and check in with him the next day.
Wednesday morning, he called me with a tone of urgency in his voice. "I want you
to get a venous Doppler ultrasound, because I think you may have a blood clot,"
he said. "If that’s the case, the blood supply to the rest of your leg is being
cut off, and that would explain the swelling in your knee."
Sure enough, that afternoon, the ultrasound revealed a blood clot that extended
from my Achilles tendon all the way to the top of my leg. The medical diagnosis:
DVT. The doctors were worried the shortness of breath I was experiencing was from
a pulmonary embolism (PE) – a blood clot from my leg that had broken off and traveled
to my lungs. They rushed me to the emergency room for a CT scan.
Shortly after I got back to my room, a pulmonary specialist walked in with a calm
but stern look on his face. "You have blood clots in each of your lungs," he reported.
"We need to get you on medication right away." I received blood-thinning medication
to start dissolving the clots, and I was moved to an overnight room, where I was
hooked up to an IV. It looked like covering the Ohio State-Michigan State game was
out of the question. So was Iowa-Michigan the following week.
A Close Call
As I lay in the darkness of my hospital room that night, my thoughts turned to David
Bloom, the NBC News correspondent who was fatally stricken by a PE a few years back
while embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. I remember reading that he had pain in
his leg, but never sought medical attention, and that the autopsy revealed a blood
clot in his lungs. My doctors were very clear: had my situation not been diagnosed
when it was, I could have suffered the same fate as David Bloom.
I marveled at how one day, you’re just minding your own business, living life, jet-setting
around the country covering games every week; then, without any discernable warning,
you’re laid up in a hospital bed. Scary, scary stuff.
Minimizing the Risk of Recurrence
I still have blood work once a week or every other week to ensure my blood remains
thin enough not to clot again, but thick enough that I won’t bleed to death if I
cut myself shaving (that’s a bit melodramatic, but you get the point). I’ll be on
blood thinners for at least a year, but if I maintain my heavy flight schedule,
it will have to be much, much longer than that.
The good news is, the chance of recurrence while on blood thinners is relatively
small, as long as I’m diligent about taking the necessary precautions. On long flights,
I have to get up and walk around once an hour to keep the blood circulating in my
legs. Same goes for long car and train rides. Inconvenient? Yes… but it sure beats
I am so grateful Dr. Schneider’s thought process was right on the money, and that
my physicians quickly put me on the proper medication to help dissolve the clots.
While heavy air travel is a frequent cause of DVT (I had been doing a ton of flying
in the month or so before my diagnosis, covering football and baseball games each
week), my doctors also mentioned some of the other causes of DVT: family history,
estrogen-based birth control, smoking and traumatic injury.
I have teamed up with David Bloom’s wife, Melanie, and the Coalition to Prevent
DVT, to help increase awareness about this life-threatening condition. I’ve always
put stock in the adage "That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." I used
to say that figuratively. Now, I think a literal interpretation is in order.
"One day, you’re just minding your own business, living life.... Then, without any
discernable warning, you’re laid up in a hospital bed."