Wyoming, United States
After a life-threatening diagnosis of multiple pulmonary emboli (PE) at the age of 38, Tonya Lockwood wants everyone to know the signs and symptoms of potentially deadly blood clots.
“I am very passionate about making people aware of this because I was ignorant and had no idea,” Tonya says. “I’m so grateful that I made it through it.”
Lockwood’s symptoms began in November of 2010, but like many victims of venous thromboembolism (VTE), she attributed it to being overweight and out of shape. At first, Tonya began to feel short of breath and fatigued, and she thought she may have an infection. However, when she went to her family physician, she was prescribed a steroid after her doctor said that her lungs were clear.
For the next two months, more symptoms emerged as she developed hives and stiffness in her neck. When Lockwood began to feel sharp chest pains in February of 2011, her mother convinced her to go the hospital.
“The doctor said, ‘I am so glad that you are here. You have multiple large pulmonary embolisms in both of your lungs.’ I was really lucky that I came in when I did,” Tonya recalls.
Without her mother’s urging to go to the emergency room, Tonya may not have made it another day. “The doctor was really, really surprised that I had made it so long with symptoms,” she says. “It doesn’t really hit you at first what is happening, but I could have died. I’m just so grateful.”
After several days in the hospital, Tonya was released but continued a course of treatment for the next six months. Doctors were not certain of the cause of her PEs, but believe it may be related to her use of birth control. They tested her for genetic blood disorders, but the results were negative.
Four years later, Tonya is no longer on birth control and has changed her lifestyle in other ways that improve her health and eliminate risk factors. An active mother of two adult children, Tonya is now in great physical condition. In 2014, she ran a triathlon, and she will soon participate in a 30-mile bike ride.
“I know that sitting too long and being overweight can contribute to risk factors,” Tonya says. “I’ve changed my nutrition. I know that my problem was related to estrogen, so I have become a lot more aware of my nutrition. I was already pretty active in terms of exercise, but this just reaffirms that this is an important thing.”
Tonya hopes that sharing her story can help to educate people who don’t know anything about VTE or PE. “I don’t think I had ever really heard of it,” she says. “But it affects men and women of all different lifestyles, and I wish more people were aware. Everyone should learn the possible symptoms and signs and women should be careful with birth control.”