It was supposed to be a happy time for Christine Ashimwe Gatsinzi, a busy mother from Kigali, Rwanda. It was December 2015 and she had just given birth to her third daughter.
Like many new mothers, Christine was focused on her baby, so she was not concerned when she noticed abnormal swelling of her legs and feet following her discharge from the hospital. She attributed the symptoms to swelling from her pregnancy.
But she soon began to experience a cough coupled with chest pain, in addition to the swelling.
She called both her family doctor and obstetrician, but neither immediately suspected blood clots. They recommended she take cough syrup.
Five days later, Christine started wheezing from the right side of her chest with shortness of breath while her chest pain continued to intensify. She knew this was not normal.
Upon being admitted to the hospital, doctors discovered that she had a pulmonary embolism (PE) in the right lung, which was a result of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in her right leg, a condition known together as venous thromboembolism (VTE). Christine recalled how surreal the diagnosis and quick medical action felt.
“I was witnessing an experience that I had only seen on a TV program,” she said. “But it was happening to me.”
Christine was hospitalized for 10 days and was later discharged. She was put on anticoagulants, but has since experienced three recurrent PEs and one cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. She has been hospitalized more than 20 times since her initial diagnosis less than a year and a half ago due to recurrences and complications of VTE.
Christine admitted that her condition has greatly affected her day-to-day life.
“I had to resign from a well-paying full-time job to concentrate on treatment,” she said. “I have been completely transformed by this condition, both socially and psychologically.”
She said it’s important to understand the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of thrombosis – no matter one’s age.
“I knew nothing about DVT and PE prior to my experience,” she said. “I had never heard about it and did not have an idea about the signs and symptoms, despite my husband being a physician. I did not know pregnancy, surgery, and prolonged periods of immobility could be risk factors.”
Despite her medical challenges, Christine is focused on her health and raising her three daughters. She is passionate about raising awareness about thrombosis, particularly to women.
She is a nationally-recognized advocate and motivational speaker on this topic with an aim of improving thrombosis knowledge for women throughout Rwanda.
“I am conducting research on why information about blood clots during pregnancy is not included in the antenatal package in Rwanda and how this can be changed,” she said. ““Education is so important.”