Johannesburg, South Africa
The last thing a savvy, active and hard-charging public relations executive needs is to be disabled by blood clots. But that's what Jenni Newman of Johannesburg faced.
Over a decade ago she was scheduled for a routine hip replacement, not an uncommon operation for middle-aged women. The surgeon was extraordinarily skilled but the consulting physician only "casually" mentioned the risk of clots, and failed to caution her that venous thromboembolism (VTE) could be a major, life-threatening complication of this surgical procedure, and the importance of getting back to the hospital if she experienced the telltale signs of blood clots.
A week after the operation, Jenni experienced a searing, stabbing pain in her side. She rang her doctor who seemed not terribly alarmed despite her pain. "It was like a hot knife being turned in my ribs."
The next morning at the doctor's office, Jenni requested an MRI despite the doctor's declaration that medical aid companies (or insurance companies) hate to pay for relatively expensive tests like this. She stood firm and the MRI was performed. "Don't move," the technician said. "Your lungs are full of clots." Those six words meant Jenni would spend the next ten days in the intensive care ward.
Despite challenges in getting the dosage of her anticlotting medications correct, Jenni is now recovered from her ordeal. She says her experiences have made her a firm believer that patients and healthcare professionals must take blood clots very, very seriously. "Doctors need to spell out in no uncertain terms the risks of clots when you are admitted to hospital and what are the signs you should watch for," she says.
"Equally important, it's vital that every patient at risk of thrombosis—such as hip replacement patients like me—be monitored carefully and be given prophylactic therapy if necessary. I am lucky that I insisted on playing a role in my healthcare. If I hadn't, the results could have been catastrophic."