Alma, Michigan, United States
You can hear the anguish in Sara Wassenaar’s voice as she recounts the story of her daughter Anna Frutiger, who died a month after her 23rd birthday from a blood clot in her lungs (pulmonary embolism or PE) due to an undiagnosed blood clot in her leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). Anna was following in her parents’ professional footsteps by studying at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine with dreams of becoming a second generation dentist. She was also an avid runner and training to run a half marathon.
“As health care providers ourselves we did not notice her symptoms as they were so easily interpreted as other things and not something life threatening,” says Sara, a member of the National Blood Clot Alliance board, who along with Anna’s dad and brother were tested for blood clotting disorders. All three tested negative.
Four months before Anna died, she complained of pain behind her knee and calf and attributed it to the stress and strain of training for the half marathon. When the pain persisted, she saw an orthopedic surgeon who tested her for a blood clot in her lower leg. The test proved negative for DVT. Her doctor surmised that Anna’s only risk factor was taking birth control pills.
During this time Anna was also traveling quite a bit. Sara says they took family trip that required a five to six hour flight, and Anna also took long bus rides (eight hours or so) to see friends in New York City. It was right after one of these trips that she complained of not being able to breathe easily when carrying her groceries up to her apartment. Sara says Anna, fresh from her city trip, attributed this to school stress, since her trip was over and the demands of school were resuming.
The very next morning Anna called her best friend to drive her to school because she felt extremely weak. Anna collapsed and blacked out, and her friend immediately called 911. She made it to the emergency room but within minutes of arriving, suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest. Anna was taken into surgery to try to dislodge a huge blood clot that had caused her PE. Over the next two days, Anna’s medical team worked to save her life in the hopes that she would awake from her coma. Anna’s family made the agonizing choice to remove her from life support after neurological tests showed no brain activity.
Anna’s autopsy revealed no predisposition to blood clots and concluded the combination of heavy travel and birth control pills contributed to her blood clot.
Says Sara, “We are hoping what happened to Anna won’t happen to anyone else and we are thrilled to hear that World Thrombosis Day will shine the light of awareness on blood clots, so that everyone around the world will be educated about the signs and symptoms, and know their own personal risk factors and family histories.”