PITTSBURGH - It started out as a leg cramp, but turned into something far more serious.
Channel 11’s Jennifer Abney didn’t realize she was living with deep vein thrombosis, a potentially deadly condition that affects millions of Americans.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is the same condition NBC journalist David Bloom died of in 2003. A clot traveled from his leg to his lungs and killed him.
In September, Abney went to the hospital with a dull but constant pain in her leg. Doctors diagnosed her with a pulmonary embolism, or PE. She had none of the normal risk factors. She does not smoke, had no known family history and had not traveled recently.
“Prolonged immobility in any kind of situation can actually set off a blood clot,” explained Dr. Robert Kaplan.
In a DVT, a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the leg. There can be swelling, redness and pain. In more serious cases, part of the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, like what happened with Abney. Her clot was discovered through a CT scan.
“The clot is this grey thing here,” Dr. Gordon McLean, a radiologist at West Penn Allegheny Health System, said as he showed Abney the scan.
Up to 200,000 Americans die each year from PE.
“You have managed to dodge that bullet,” said McLean.
Some patients have a much longer road to recovery and are quite inspiring, like Sandra Guckert from McCandless.
“I felt exhausted, tired. I was having such a hard time breathing. I just kept using my inhaler,” she said.
Guckert thought she was having an asthma attack but she was actually suffering a life-threatening PE.
“It was in my legs and it came up and hit my lungs and it blew up in my lungs,” she said. “I had the pulmonary embolism. My brain started to swell. It caused a stroke.”
Doctors told her family that she would not survive.
“I shouldn't be here but I am,” Guckert said.
“They thought you were brain dead?” asked Abney.
“Yes. Definitely brain dead,” said Guckert.
DVT affects two million Americans each year yet a study found about 75% of Americans have little or no awareness of this silent killer.
DVT does not discriminate. It affects young, old, male, female, fit, unfit and people of all races.
After several tests, doctors learned Abney had a genetic blood disorder called Factor V Leiden. It’s associated with an increased risk of developing DVT.
Doctors said her prognosis is good. She is on blood thinners, wears a compression garment and sees the doctor regularly for checkups.
About 6 percent of the Caucasian population carries this gene but it’s rare or non-existent in other races.
To learn more about the symptoms and if you are at risk, log on to: