My phone rang in the middle of the night. I was told that David was dead. My heart literally stopped beating as my whole world went dark. I could not breathe. In that instant, my husband's life was gone, my life was forever altered, and the safe and carefree childhood of our three little girls was shattered.
Since I lost my husband, NBC news correspondent David Bloom, six years ago due to DVT-related complications while covering the war in Iraq, I have been working with the Coalition to Prevent DVT as the National Patient Spokesperson for the Coalition to help raise public awareness and further health education measures surrounding this potentially fatal condition.
You may remember David Bloom from his coverage of the war in Iraq for NBC News. David was embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division filing news reports live from the front lines. I was proud of his determination to tell the soldiers' story and to bring the reality of war home to the American people. But I was also frightened. I prayed he would come back home to us safe and sound. I watched his live reports with my heart in my teeth.
The bitter irony is that David did lose his life in the sand-blown heat of war. But the killer was not an insurgent's bullet or an IED explosion. Rather, the bomb was buried deep in David's own body. His death was due to a complication of DVT - simply put, a blood clot.
Until my phone rang the night of David's death, I had never before heard of DVT. I thought it must be some rare, freak occurrence. But I soon learned that more Americans die each year from DVT than from AIDS and Breast Cancer combined. The numbers were staggering, yet no one really knew about this insidious killer. David's death was due to a silent and stealthy condition that remains difficult to detect: pulmonary embolism, or PE.
So what exactly is DVT? Deep-Vein Thrombosis is a blood clot that usually forms in the leg. When the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, it's called a Pulmonary Embolism, or PE. It is fatal when it blocks a pulmonary artery or one of its branches, preventing oxygen from entering the lungs. Out of the 2 million Americans that will develop a clot each year, approximately 600,000 go on to develop a PE - and 300,000 of those PE's are fatal. Among hospital patients, DVT related PE's are the No. 1 cause of preventable hospital death in our nation.
Could you or a loved one be at risk? Yes. DVT is not specific to any age, race or gender. Anyone at anytime can develop a DVT however certain individuals may be at increased risk. Being over the age of 40, being overweight, and smoking are all common risk factors. Restricted mobility is another risk factor which can occur while sitting for long periods of time, allowing the blood to pool in your lower extremities. This could happen on a long flight or car ride, or even sitting for long stretches at your computer. More risk factors include dehydration because your blood becomes thicker and more sluggish; certain heart or respiratory diseases; hip replacement and other types of orthopedic surgery; and cancer. Women are at greater risk when they are on the birth control pill or on hormone replacement therapy. (For a complete list of risk factors, please go to www.preventdvt.org.)
In David's case, there were long-haul flights between New York and Kuwait in the months leading up to the war; prolonged immobility from sleeping, night after night, with his knees pulled up to his chin in a cramped tank; and dehydration because the water supply was dwindling along the front lines. Also, David's autopsy revealed Factor V Leiden, which is an inherited blood coagulation disorder. It is important to note, however, that out of the 300,000 deaths that occur each year, only a small percentage have a genetic component and having one risk factor alone is not enough. It is the combination of risk factors - having three or more - that can cause sudden death. The confluence of David's four risk factors became the "perfect storm" for his fatal PE. David was only 39 years old, an avid tennis player, in excellent health, and in the prime of his life. Had we only known about the risk factors, warning signs and symptoms, perhaps David's death could have been prevented.
How do you know if you have a DVT? You may not know because fifty percent of the time there are no warning signs or symptoms whatsoever. It has been dubbed the "silent killer." That is why it's absolutely critical to determine if you fall into a high risk category. When there are symptoms, they can include pain, tenderness, redness or swelling in the leg. A PE can display symptoms of pain in the chest or difficulty breathing. David had mentioned leg cramps, but the morning of his death his leg seemed fine. Doctors believe this may have been when the clot broke loose and migrated toward the lungs.
Following David's death, I made it my mission to learn more about DVT and to share my knowledge serving as the national spokesperson for the Coalition. Since its inception, the Coalition to Prevent DVT is continuing its mission to educate the public, healthcare professionals and policy-makers about the risk factors, symptoms and signs associated with DVT by working on public health and public policy initiatives.
It is encouraging to know that our message is being heard - that our mission of raising awareness is, in fact, having an impact. The Coalition has opened the dialogue and brought a much-needed focus to DVT. We have helped built consensus among clinicians and policymakers to establish DVT treatment guidelines -- guidelines that help protect patients.
I'm proud of the amazing accomplishments the Coalition has achieved -- but there is still more work to do: DVT remains a public health issue. Up to two million Americans are affected annually by DVT. Of those who go on to develop PE, approximately 300,000 will die each year. Sadly, DVT risk factors are often under-recognized.
March has become a very special month for me. On March 10th, we kicked off the sixth annual DVT Awareness Month in New York City. Additionally, the United States House of Representatives designated the second Tuesday in March as National DVT Screening Day to underscore DVT as a national public health priority. National DVT Screening Day is a call for all healthcare professionals to educate patients and colleagues about the importance of DVT risk assessment.
On a local level, the Coalition kicked off an RV Tour -Driving to Reduce the Risks of DVT. The DVT RV tour takes to the road to educate the nation about the importance of DVT risk assessment. We are traveling to cities across the country through May.
We will continue to spread the message and the mission. Thank you so much for inviting me to share my story with all of you. When I first began my work with the Coalition, it was difficult to put my personal pain on public display. But I believed if one person lived for having heard my story, then David's death would not be in vain. Serving as the National Spokesperson for the Coalition has proven to be a most cathartic experience, both humbling and rewarding.
For more information and to asses your risk for DVT, please visit www.preventdvt.org.
Melanie Bloom is the Patient Spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent DVT.