Part I: Introduction
What do tennis star Serena Williams, news broadcaster David Bloom, and TV pitchman Billy Mays all have in common? They were all victims of a pulmonary embolism, and the latter two individuals died from it. Pulmonary embolisms strike individuals of every age, health condition, and livelihood. No one is immune from this often silent killer, to which about 15% of all sudden deaths are attributed.
Pulmonary Embolism Defined
A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when an artery in a lung becomes blocked by some material, usually a blood clot. The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is the movement into the bloodstream of a blood clot that has formed in the deep veins of the legs. The tendency to form blood clots there is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
The effects of a pulmonary embolism vary considerably, depending upon the size of the blockage and the length of time in which blood supply was restricted. A large clot that completely stops blood flow to the lung can be quite deadly. But even among survivors, no one escapes completely unscathed.
Small clots may have lesser residual effects, but recovery can take anywhere from weeks to months or years. Lasting damage to both the lungs and heart may occur. Lung tissue that is served by any blocked artery is damaged or destroyed, reducing overall lung capacity. Pulmonary embolism can also cause a condition known as pulmonary hypertension. Because the blood pressure in the lungs may become too high due to obstructions, it can “wear out” a portion of the heart.
Each year approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition, and an estimated 3-4 times as many individuals have the condition without receiving a diagnosis. Worldwide estimates are difficult to assess, as diagnosis can only be definitive with the right diagnostic tools. A death from pulmonary embolism is commonly reflected as a broader cardio-pulmonary problem.
And why are these facts and figures so important to me? Because I quite unexpectedly joined the ranks of Williams, Bloom and Mays, and countless thousands of other individuals. On June 26, 2011, when I should have been “roasting” my good friend Ben Rosenberg, I was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, and almost became a sudden death statistic.
My profile is not the typical one for someone who just suffered a major health crisis – and perhaps that’s the whole point. Judge for yourself:
Having just turned 48 (I know some thought I was older and others I was younger – but this is the age on my driver’s license), I had never had a major medical problem in my entire life. My only trips to hospitals were to visit ailing friends or relatives. I worked out rigorously and religiously 6 days per week, and enjoyed a full and happy life. My career in the travel field, presiding over several travel companies has afforded me the opportunity to fly frequently to countries all around the world, explore new cultures, and meet interesting people. With one foot in the United States and the other at home in Israel, I had far-flung family, friends, and business associates who daily enriched my life.
I’m also a family man, soon to be celebrating 25 years of marriage to Carol, and proud father to Adina, Gilad, Ilan, and Dafna. On the day I was hospitalized, one of my daughters, Adina, was just heading off to Canada to work in Camp Moshava, and I was feeling particularly proud. Ilan, who literally saved my life by taking me (making me go) to the ER – was in New York enjoying his final day before heading to work at a camp for children with Special Needs. Gilad was in New York working for the summer and on this very day volunteering for (US) Customs and Border Patrol – and was at my side each and every day while in the hospital and Dafna was taking a breather from an unbelievable academic school-year before returning home for her continued summer adventures. Like Carol and myself, all of our children have been active in volunteer work. Our family also takes great pride inactive expression of our Jewish faith, enjoying everything from affiliation with our synagogue community to hosting kosher travel tours around the world and of course at home in Israel.
So that is me before the moment of crisis: a healthy, happy man, content with his family, his work, and his faith – secure in the knowledge of his good health and a bright future.And then the pain comes. The days of hospitalization.The weeks stretching into months of recuperation.
Lesson learned: It CAN happen to me, or to anyone.
In the series of articles to follow, I’d like to walk you through some of my own experiences with pulmonary embolism, as I share with you some important facts about:
- Signs and symptoms;
- Causes and risk factors;
- Diagnosis and treatment;
- Recovery; and
From my own experiences, I know that my lack of knowledge about the condition, combined with my denial about the signs my body was giving me, brought me to a medical crisis that came all too close to being fatal. While normally reticent about my personal life, I hope that by sharing my own experiences and feelings, I may help someone else to avoid becoming a statistic.
If you don’t believe it can happen to you, neither did I! So I hope you’ll join me on this story of lessons learned, of a sudden loss of health, and a still gradual recovery. The end of my story isn’t even written yet, but with my strong faith and incredible support system I believe it will end with my health fully restored.
I hope you will take this journey with me.