Christina, my first-born daughter, died suddenly in January of 2015 from multiple pulmonary embolisms just three short weeks after her 30th Christmas birthday. Christina had broken her foot and developed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which quickly led to the massive pulmonary embolisms that took her life suddenly. I did not know DVT’s were common in young women. I did not know the risk is higher for young women on birth control or for those who have had recent surgery or trauma to the lower body. I did not know what a pulmonary embolism was until 24 hours after Christina died. I will always wish I had known.
This is Christina’s story:
In the first week of January, 2015, Christina broke her foot after falling down the stairs while carrying Christmas decorations to her basement. She went to a local prompt care facility the day afterward as her foot was painful and swelling. The doctor in the office put her in a medical walking boot and made another appointment with a podiatrist as soon as he could get her in, which was almost two weeks out.
Throughout the following week, Christina began complaining of her calf hurting and being short of breath. She went to the local emergency room and was told the pain was, most likely, due to walking on her foot during the week. Christina was given a narcotic pain medication and sent home. The day after the emergency room visit, Christina and I looked online for another walking boot, one that wasn’t as rigid and would, hopefully, take the pressure off of her calf to reduce the severe pain in her leg. I asked her to call to get the podiatrist appointment moved up. Christina did make the call two days later, but the podiatrist couldn’t see her for another six days. Worried, I called another office and asked them to see her. Christina confirmed the appointment and was scheduled for the very next day. Christina texted me to say the receptionist at the office seemed “the most concerned of anyone I’ve talked to so far.” I was relieved she could finally see someone soon. Christina would never make that appointment because:
That night – I awoke to a phone call from my son-in-law. In a panicked voice, he asked me to come to the house as the paramedics were there. My son-in-law indicated the paramedics had been there for forty minutes after Christina had collapsed ascending the stairs to their bedroom. The paramedics thought Christina was having a bad anxiety attack, yet Christina wasn’t calming down and he wanted me to come to the house. My son-in-law was lying on the bed with Christina, but when I asked to talk with her, she couldn’t. I knew if she could talk to me, she would have. I gathered my things quickly and ran a stop light en route to Christina’s house.
When I arrived, Christina was in her bedroom on the bed and struggling to breathe. I had never witnessed anyone breathing so fast and so hard; the sounds coming from her were hoarse and distressed – nothing I’ve ever heard before. I knew something was desperately wrong within the first ten seconds in the bedroom. The paramedics stood at the end of her bed seemingly annoyed she was taking so long to calm down from her assumed panic attack. They paced the floor, but did not approach her. Instead they walked back and forth to the second bedroom where they had housed equipment for the emergency run. They did not suspect a pulmonary embolism even with her broken foot and history of birth control.
I asked the paramedics directly for oxygen as Christina was sweating profusely and cyanosis was apparent in the blue tinge to her lips and fingernails. Thoughts of why they didn’t give her oxygen before I arrived flittered through my mind. The paramedics, standing at least seven feet away from her, denied my request to administer oxygen until Christina calmed down. Both looked at me as if I’d asked for something crazy and said firmly, “We can’t give her oxygen until she calms down; it won’t go in!” I didn’t understand why the oxygen was denied or why it “wouldn’t go in,” but surely, they knew something I didn’t know as they were the professionals.
As my mind scrambled to make sense of what they said, minutes kept ticking by. I tried to talk to Christina, but she was barely able to respond – she did manage to say, “Take me to the hospital.” I looked to the paramedics for some kind of direction, but got none. I told one of the paramedics I had not witnessed a panic attack like this before and stated, “This is bad.” I wasn’t sure what to do next. I tried talking to Christina to get her to calm down so they could give her oxygen or do something to help her. I tried rubbing her back, but she flinched with pain. I looked at the paramedics and asked, “What are we doing, guys?” More time elapsed… I told the paramedics Christina was NOT calming down and asked if they would please do something to help her. One of the paramedics finally administered Ativan via her nose to help her with the “anxiety attack” – more than fifty minutes after they arrived on the scene. My son-in-law struggled to remove the medical walking boot from Christina’s broken foot as she began rolling and thrashing on the bed. Within minutes after the Ativan, Christina rolled her head to the side; her eyes were closed and her body still. I looked at the paramedics and said, “Guys, she doesn’t look good.” They assured me it was the Ativan at work relaxing her, but suddenly both paramedics rushed to action. One checked her wrist for a pulse - the first real attempt to take any kind of vital sign in over an hour. He then tried to get an IV in unsuccessfully; he stopped to ask my son-in-law if Christina had problems in the past with IV’s. Another paramedic arrived on the scene and asked abruptly, “What do you want ME to do?”
As I stood and watched helplessly from the foot of the bed, one of the paramedics had begun bagging oxygen into Christina. Thoughts of TV shows and people dying surfaced as I watched. The whole time I knew something terrible was happening, but I was totally helpless to speak or move in those final moments. The emergency team finally loaded Christina into a sling to carry her down the stairs to the ambulance for transport. One of the paramedics stepped on her hair as he carried her to the stairs from her bedroom. My mother’s heart was breaking as I screamed silently, “Please don’t step on her hair!” Christina didn’t even flinch in the sling as the paramedic’s large boot stepped on her hair. In my heart, I knew she was gone, but the paramedics had assured me it was the Ativan. I hurried to grab some of Christina’s clothes I knew she would need at the hospital. Christina had struggled so much to breathe that when I glanced to her bed, it was saturated with urine and sweat. I threw her clothes in my bag and turned to ask my son-in-law which hospital we were going to. He didn’t know, so I ran to find someone in the ambulance to tell us. As I turned the corner of the ambulance, the paramedics were performing CPR inside. I have taken CPR classes for years and even when one of the paramedics stepped in front of the window, I could see the rhythmic movements trying to revive Christina.
At the hospital, my son-in-law and I asked for updates, waited, asked for updates again, and continued to wait. Finally, a man in blue stepped into the waiting room and said, “She’s expired”- that is all, “just expired”, and left. I looked at my son-in-law and asked, “What did he just say?” So, began my journey into grief.
Forever Namaste is currently available for immediate electronic delivery. The book details more of my own journey through the sudden death of a child due to blood clots.
- The National Blood Clot Alliance, a 501(c)(3), non-profit, voluntary health organization dedicated to advancing the prevention, early diagnosis and successful treatment of life-threatening blood clots such as deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and clot-provoked stroke.
- Blood Clots kill more people each year than AIDS, Breast Cancer and motor vehicle accidents combined.
- An estimated 900,000 Americans are diagnosed with blood clots each year. 100,000 will die.
- Blood Clots kill one person every 6 minutes
- Although blood clots can be prevented, fewer than 1 in 4 people know the signs and symptoms, making awareness so important.
- 274 people will die today from a blood clot, and tomorrow, and the next day. Every day, 274 Americans will die of a blood clot.
- Many of these deaths could been prevented with increased awareness and education. Knowledge is power! If we can save other lives...we must!
Visit us at www.stoptheclot.org for additional information on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from blood clots.