Sunday 25 February 2018

'I was very sick like Serena Williams' - Irish mother-of-three (53) says people don't know the risks

Serena Williams and her new husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian with their baby daughter.
Serena Williams and her new husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian with their baby daughter.
Serena Williams
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Tennis star Serena Williams opened up earlier this week about the complications that arose after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia.

In an interview with US fashion magazine Vogue the 23-time Grand Slam champion revealed she suffered a clot on her lung just days after her daughter was delivered via an emergency c-section.

After the surgery, Williams began feeling unwell, complaining of a shortness of breath. Fearing she was suffering from a pulmonary embolism, she insisted on a CT scan that showed a number of small blood clots on her lungs.

The pulmonary embolism then sparked a coughing fit that caused her caesarean section wound to re-open.

Williams is now fully recovered but admitted that she found the first few months of motherhood a challenging experience.

“Sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this,” said Williams.

"I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’ The emotions are insane.”

Read More: Serena Williams reveals major medical scare after giving birth to her first child Alexis Olympia  

Ann Marie O'Neill started Thrombosis Ireland to raise awareness about blood clots.
Ann Marie O'Neill started Thrombosis Ireland to raise awareness about blood clots.

Ann Marie O’Neill (53) from Firhouse, Dublin, raises awareness in Ireland about clots and pulmonary embolism with Thrombosis Ireland.

She suffered her first clot on February 7, 1995, just three months after her baby Kevin was born.

“I was delighted when I saw Serena’s article because it would make people aware that this famous person who’s so successful and has all of these doctors around her, she still got it.”

“Serena Williams is a real champion and I’d heard she’d had a blood clot after a long-haul flight and then the second one after the surgery of having a baby.”

“That’s one thing that people don’t know, once you’ve had one clot you’re six times more likely to get another.”

“Serena says she lives in fear of blood clots. And I understand that. Because they’re a silent thing, and they feel like so many other things. A lot of athletes suffer these and think it’s a strained muscle because it’s the same feeling.”

“And then some people don’t get any leg symptoms at all. Some people just experience lung symptoms.”

In May 1995, three months after her second baby Kevin was born, Ann Marie had surgery to remove her gall bladder. She was recovering in hospital when she got a vomiting bug, became dehydrated, and then suffered a clot.

“You’re in bed and you’re not moving around for long periods of time, so you’re at risk.”

“The following week when I was in hospital, I couldn’t breathe, I had a chest pain and I was six weeks in hospital after that. If you get a blood clot you’re going to elongate your recovery time.”

“I was very sick, it takes a long time to get your lung function back again; you’ve scarring on your lung, so you’re more susceptible to something turning to pneumonia.”

Photo: Thrombosis Ireland
Photo: Thrombosis Ireland

Five years later, Ann Marie realised something was acutely wrong again when she experienced severe pains in her chest.

“I went back to work full time and out of the blue five years later, I got a clot on my lung. I was in work and aware that I had a chest pain, but I had no information on the signs and symptoms and I didn’t know that it could happen to me again.”

“Two weeks later, I was driving along and I couldn’t breathe, my kids were in the car with me, and I said I have to go to A&E straight away.”

“Still no one explained to me what had happened. The penny hadn’t really dropped with me how serious this was and that I could have died.”

“I had an injection into my seminal artery and my artery clotted and I realised I had a very serious problem.”

“It made me realise how important it is to get the message out there. No one can escape them. Young and old, men and women. And they’re still at risk for 90 days after they get home from hospital.”

“Those clots were actually in my lung for two weeks when I couldn’t breathe. I went to get it checked because of the previous experience.”

Through her work with Thrombosis Ireland, Ann Marie has discovered that, like her, many survivors of clots suffer post-traumatic stress afterwards.

“I had chest pains for a long time afterwards. Because of that, I was running to A&E afterwards because I would have felt that I had a clot back again. You do need to check but then you feel like a bit of a hypochondriac. There is post traumatic stress, you are afraid to get hurt, you’re afraid you’re going to die.”

“Every time I read someone’s story or someone contacts me I particularly get upset when I hear that someone didn’t survive. These deaths are so preventable. It’s not going to kill you if it’s still in your leg. It’s when it’s ignored or not discovered and not diagnosed that it can go to your lung.”

“If you get an excessive pain in your leg, or are worried in any way after surgery, double check because you’re on high alert for blood clots.”

“I only experienced lung symptoms, I didn’t experience deep vein thrombosis (leg clot) symptoms.”

“I just couldn’t get an inward breath and it hurt even to let it out. You can’t get air. It’s a very sharp pain in your chest. Obviously you can ignore it but you shouldn’t; I ignored it for two weeks, and then I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It took a long time for the penny to drop. If someone had explained to me the risks, I would have got it checked straight away.”

“I had no idea I nearly died. I was on oxygen and everything after it. I wasn’t moved to ICU but I knew the doctors were extremely worried and my family was told I was gravely ill.”

Thrombosis Ireland are now working with Irish hospitals to establish a system where all patients receive an “alert card” on how to spot clot symptoms.

“I’d like to empower people to protect themselves, like the FAST campaign for stroke, we can protect each other. Do people know the signs and symptoms of a blood clot, which is just as dangerous? A blood clot can cause a stroke. You need to get medical attention straight away.”

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