Lake Zurick, Illinois, United States
On June 7, 2009, Katie Projansky, a vibrant, 36-year-old woman who was seven weeks pregnant, died from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).
That day, Katie’s older sister, Sharon Anderson, had just arrived home from grocery shopping when her mom called her. “Have you ever had a feeling that something terrible is about to happen?” Anderson recalls. “Before I even picked up the phone to talk with my mom, I knew something was terribly wrong. I only remember the first sentence or two of that conversation with her…everything else that followed was and still is a blur.”
Sharon remembers occasions at least two years prior to Katie’s death that symptoms seemed to be present. “I can remember several occasions when she and I were spending time together and Katie felt short of breath,” Sharon says. “Of course, like many of us, Katie attributed her shortness of breath to being ‘out of shape’ and assuming that when she lost weight her breathing would improve. Instead, a vicious cycle ensued; Katie wanted to lose weight but was limited in her activity by her shortness of breath.”
In February, 2009, Katie was evaluated by a physician who thought she might have sleep apnea, and she also saw a cardiologist because it was thought she might have had a hole in her heart. By May of 2009, Katie started to have unbearable pain in her calves and thighs.
“The pain was so severe that she could barely walk and she could not sleep,” Sharon says. “She went to a doctor on May 9 and saw a physician’s assistant who sent her home and told her to take two Ibuprofen four times a day.”
When she received no relief from the pain, Katie and her husband went back to the doctor who thought she was either experiencing Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome or a Vitamin B12 deficiency. On that same day Katie found out that she was pregnant.
“This particular day, May 16, I remember well,” Sharon says. “I asked [Katie] if they knew what was causing the pain in her legs, and she said she was told, ‘I do not know what is wrong with your legs, but you are pregnant!’ Knowing what I know now, Katie should have immediately had an ultrasound of her legs to evaluate her pain as pregnancy increases a woman’s risk for blood clots and leg pain is one of the most common symptoms of having a blood clot,” Sharon says.
Over the next few weeks, Katie’s symptoms did not subside, and on June 7, the blood clot in her leg traveled to her lungs, forming a pulmonary embolism, her ultimate cause of death.
“It was only an hour from the time Katie cried out in pain until the ambulance took her to the ER where she was pronounced dead by the ER doctor,” Sharon says. “It is chilling when you realize how your world can change in an instant. Everything you value, know and love can be lost in a moment. As soon as I arrived back home a week after Katie’s death, I started looking up everything I could find regarding DVT/PE. I also learned that DVT/PE had affected three generations of my family.”
For Sharon, the one positive from this tragedy has been that she discovered a genetic predisposition in her family to develop blood clots. She believes two other family members may have been saved from suffering a similar fate thanks to this knowledge.
“Please, talk with all your family members and share your medical history with one another,” Sharon says. “My grandmother and my sister’s death certificates were identical. This conversation can truly save your life or the life of a loved one.”
Sharon Anderson is the founder and president of Katie’s Voice, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about DVT and PE. Katie’s Voice is dedicated to the memory of Katie M. Projansky. To learn more, visit katiesvoice.org or to read Sharon’s full account of Katie’s story, click here.