From Make-A-Wish Employee to Making One of My Own Wishes Come True

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After my blood clot in my leg (DVT) and blood clot in my lung (PE) in the summer of 2012, I felt pain, fear and isolation with a degree of finality that I had never felt before. Physically, I had never felt as much pain as I did then and after losing all normal aspects of my life, I had never felt as hopeless and alone. I spent my days worrying about my health, my career, my ability to do the things I loved again and ultimately, my future. I did not know what I would be able to do with my life after blood clots, but I knew in regards to my personal and professional endeavors, it was always been important to me make a difference in the lives of others.

In searching for a way to get my life back on track after my diagnosis, I began working at Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana in hopes of finding a place where I could once again make a difference, this time in the lives of children facing life-threatening illnesses. From the beginning, I found I could relate to the Make-A-Wish mission to provide hope, strength and joy to those families going through unspeakable hardship, because I had been through a similar experience in my own life. Make-A-Wish gave me hope when I had all but given up on my future, strength to stand on my own two feet again, and joy in the opportunity to bring happiness to others.

When I launched Blood Clot Recovery Network in the early 2013, it was my goal to create a place where people could come together to share, learn, discuss and ultimately gain hope that, as a Survivor of blood clots, there is life and wellness. That while the pain, fear and isolation was the worst I had ever encountered, these feelings wouldn’t last forever and even more importantly, they didn’t have to be endured alone. While I hoped to make a difference once again in the lives of others, I feared that no one really cared about blood clots at the end of the day. Still, I said to myself, if I could help just one other person out there, I had done my job and I continued to pursue my advocacy work through BCRN.

Since that time, I know from your emails, posts, messages and tweets that I have reached countless people – far more than I ever thought possible. In fact, it was this community that gave me hope through some of my darkest days when I realized that I wasn’t going to be well in a week or two, or even six. Through it all, I kept writing and as this community expanded, so did my desires and dreams for raising even more awareness and elevating my work to another level that would give me the opportunity to reach an even greater number of people or make an even greater impact in the VTE community.

In light of those dreams, it is with great excitement that I have accepted a full-time position with the National Blood Clot Alliance as part of the Communications and Health Marketing team. In this role, I am excited to now be able to fully dedicate my days and my work to what I enjoy most, raising awareness about VTE. I am able to better pursue my passion and focus singularly on raising awareness and making sure people get the information they need to know about blood clots. Working with the National Blood Clot Alliance, and given the organization’s resources and unparalleled reach in the VTE community, I am confident I have an amazing opportunity to reach an optimal number of people, both those already affected by blood clots and those who don’t know what a blood clot is or how it might affect them.

It is without doubt that BCRN and the community you have helped create will continue. I look forward to continuing to blog and interact with you here. Your support, encouragement, stories and thoughts have made a difference, not only in my life, but in the lives of one another — in the lives of those who have survived, those who have lost a loved one, those who are scared, those who are recovering, those who are in pain, lonely and afraid, and those who are learning to live again. While I have provided the resources, it is you who has nurtured this community to make it what it is today.

To you I am grateful, and I hope you will continue on this journey of hope and healing with me, both here at BCRN and in my wonderful new relationship with the National Blood Clot Alliance.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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Three Years of Recovery from a Blood Clot

Three Year Recovery Cover

Three years ago, my life changed forever in ways that I could have never of imagined before that day. I had just kicked off a new marathon training season by running about two miles with my best friend and although I was slightly discouraged (my knee hurt again and I was out of shape), I was looking forward to what was going to be a great season.

I stumbled through the weekend, my supposed-knee injury getting worse by the minute. I had no idea anything was wrong besides overdoing it on my run Saturday. I didn’t know the symptoms of DVT and PE, even though I had heard of both before. By Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t speak in full sentences, couldn’t lay flat and couldn’t walk. By late Sunday night, I was in the ICU of the hospital with an extensive DVT behind my left knee and a PE in my left lung. I was lucky to be alive as it was and nowhere near stable. I was in the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life, I was scared and I had no idea what was happening.

In the coming days, I was diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, an autoimmune blood clotting condition, and eventually placed on blood thinners that were injected into my stomach. I left the hospital with an oxygen tank and a wheelchair. In the coming weeks and then months, I lost my job, many friends, what remained of my self-confidence and any hope I had that things would get better. My relationships with the people that mattered most, mainly my husband, became strained, and I hated myself and my body that had carried me through countless half marathons and physical accomplishments for what it did to me. I sank into a deep depression, uncertain of the future and uncertain that I even wanted to live if this was how the future was going to be. Physically, everything hurt and I was making slower than slow progress; mentally I was incapable of finding any hope in my situation and emotionally I was a shell of the person I had once been. In my eyes, I was unrecognizable. And, I never, ever thought things would change.

And I was wrong. I have come long way in three years of recovery and in the beginning, I thought nothing would ever change. I write this post so that you too may know there is hope for recovery and while we all must adjust to a new normal, that doesn’t mean we cannot make progress, heal, find happiness and become accustomed to the changes we have faced.

Physically

Out of the woods and into…another woods. Critical Care Becomes Longterm Care.

At three years, I consider myself physically healed, for the most part. In the beginning and for the first six months of recovery, I vividly remember being in constant pain. My leg hurt, my lung hurt and it hurt to do anything. I begged for someone to chop off my leg (I was serious) because it hurt so bad and I could not fathom any relief. I cried all the time as a result of the pain. It was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life, and I never hope to feel it again.

Physically What Has Changed: I am no longer on oxygen and I no longer need a wheelchair, either. The pain in my leg is all but gone on most days, although I feel like I deal with more overall fatigue and pain. I do not have chest pain anymore and if I did, it would concern me enough to visit the ER. My leg still swells and compression stockings are part of my everyday wear (although I have been wearing them about three days a week lately with my doctor’s knowledge). The severe purple and brown discoloration in my leg has decreased immensely, much to my surprise. I get my INR checked via blood draws every 6-8 weeks, compared to twice a week in the beginning. Day to day, I do not get fatigued as easily (for example, walking up the stairs), but I do notice when I get fatigued, it lasts longer and is harder for me to get out of, even with rest. I can sleep for 12 hours and still be exhausted. I take warfarin, aspirin, vitamin k, folic acid, synthroid and progestin-only oral contraceptives, all under advisement of my doctor. My menstrual cycles are incredibly heavy (which my doctor believes is due to my birth control and blood thinner), and I have painful side effects that pretty much keep me sidelined for the duration of my cycle, which is unpredictable in length. I’m not as sensitive to touch as I was in the beginning, and I once again enjoy physical affection and a healthy and regular sex life with my husband. The blood clot in my lung is gone and my lung function has retuned to normal – I am out of shape. I walked a slow 5K (3.1 miles) mid-May and I was able to do so comfortably, without any shortness of breathe or long recovery period. I understand more than ever the importance of movement and blood flow, and I am fortunate enough to have a standing/sitting desk at work so I move up and down throughout the day even when I can’t get away from my desk to take a walk.

Physically What Hasn’t Changed: Antiphospholipid syndrome is, at this time, a lifelong disease and it requires constant monitoring that I have worked into my regular routine. I get regular blood draws, visit my doctor about every three months and see some other doctor (endocrinologist, OBGYN, dentist, eye doctor, etc.) every month. The doctor appointments feel more normal as I have entered a non-critical state of my care and do not require constant monitoring. I’m still not back to running (or exercising) regularly, but I have my sites set on training for a half marathon next spring (did I just say that?!). I have leg swelling from time to time, especially at the end of the day; my left (DVT) leg is slightly larger than my right leg and my clot has calcified behind my left knee.

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Lifestyle

Don’t sweat the small stuff…because it is really the big stuff!

Three years ago I lost my new job as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher three months after my PE, and I was completely devastated. I had worked for two long years to get the job, during which time I lost my Mom, my biggest supporter, and I was certain starting a new career was the start of a new life for me. I knew Mom would be proud of me, and I was proud of me too, for the first time in a long time. While I tried my hardest, I just could not learn a new job (especially an intense and stressful one) while also recovering from a PE. I had setback after setback in my recovery, including pleurisy and extreme anxiety, which greatly impaired my decision-making and rationing skills. The medications I was on greatly impacted my ability to sleep, concentrate and remember things. In the end, it just didn’t work out. And, I sank into the worst depression I have ever encountered in my life. I could not see a way out, there was none.

What Has Changed in My Lifestyle: I now have a full-time job back in the non-profit field doing work I succeed at. I never thought that would happen again. It took me 16 months to find full-time employment and the experience of being unemployed and kicked down at every turn was really damaging. Financial instability was the worst. I am working through the damage done to my self-esteem and self-confidence very slowly. It is hard for me to trust not only myself, but also people I do not already know. I am healing, though. I no longer run half marathons or lift weights or visit the gym. I just can’t get back into running since my PE. I prefer to be outside more and choose to take a walk or sit on the porch rather than go to a movie. Nature is more meaningful to me now, and I appreciate things like the park, sunsets, the ocean and the woods more. I crave being near natural things. I dress up – a lot more. Wearing colorful clothing is important to me.

What Hasn’t Changed in My Lifestyle: My diet hasn’t changed tremendously. While total elimination has not worked for me, I try to limit the amount of grains, dairy and sugar I eat. I prefer to eat as close to paleo as I can, but do not follow it exclusively. I still eat regular amounts of vitamin k rich vegetables, I eat cranberries and I drink alcohol in moderation.

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Psychologically and Emotionally

Just because it’s hardly talked about, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The psychological trauma of DVT and PE is real. 

The psychological and emotional impact of a DVT and PE and recovery from these events is the one thing I am not fully prepared to talk about. I am still working through this aspect of recovery, and it still has a strong influence over my life. Talking about it helps. Connecting with others helps. And, because of those things, I will do my best to convey my struggles and progress with you.

What Has Changed Psychologically and Emotionally: Where to begin? It seems like everything has changed for me on this front. I believe that because I am still processing what happened to me, I suffer from a high level of anxiety and fear on a regular basis. I am very quick to get angry and very quick to shut down in the face of personal adversity. My hypervigilance about suffering from another clot has decreased in regards to myself, but I am convinced that everyone around me who has a leg pain or trouble breathing has a DVT or PE, and I recommend they all go to the ER. There is no “could be” for me, it “is” a blood clot. I’ve identified some pretty specific triggers that either make me angry, confrontational or sad and they include, “That’s a bummer,” “This thing/time/place/etc. is different,” and “It’s not that bad.” Because it’s not a bummer (it’s so much more than that), this is no different and it really is that bad in my experience, at least. I have discovered that I need support in being a source of hope, inspiration and information for so many other survivors, and I have discovered that I need to readily seek out that support. For as much anxiety as I have, some things just do not matter anymore. If you don’t like me, I’m okay with that. I have more consequential things to worry about now. I have developed an irrational fear of heights. I am fully aware I could (and I might) die at any second, but I continue living my life.

What Hasn’t Changed Psychologically and Emotionally: I continue to overcome difficult things in my life and persevere through tough times, but I do not embrace positivity, and I do not believe a positive outlook is the key to healing. I am realistic, honest and straightforward and with that, I move forward, but I am not necessarily a positive person all the time.

Recovery is a process. One with a clearly defined beginning and end named then and now. Then being my life before my PE and now being my life since then. There is no middle ground. Time is crucial and matters greatly to me. There is no time to waste. Recovery is difficult, painful, lonely and confusing, but there is hope. Hope that we do not remain the same and as we heal, no matter how little, we progress through the process of time.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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Get Your Recovery on Track with INRTracker

Get your recovery on track with INRTracker

Being diagnosed with a blood clot is scary. It’s confusing, it’s overwhelming and all too often, patients are discharged from the hospital with little to no support from their doctors and medical providers. While I had a doctor who was very supportive of me and my recovery, I did not have a positive experience with the physicians who treated me in the hospital. I was handed a paper detailing instructions that made little to no sense of me between all the confusion, pain and medications I was taking. I asked a lot of questions prior to discharge, but can’t remember or didn’t fully understand the answers. In addition, the doctors who discharged me where clearly irritated that I asked so many questions. I left feeling frustrated, confused and very much alone.

One of the things I found most complicated about my diagnosis and then treatment was first understanding and then managing my INR. For starters, I didn’t even know what an INR (or international normalized ratio) was or why it mattered what my numbers were. I soon found out that INR is a measure of how long it takes for blood to clot and it mattered because if my INR was too low, it could mean I had a tendency to clot again or if it was too high, I could run the risk of bleeding internally. From there, I wondered about things like vitamin k and diet consistency; when to take my medication and how much to take; what kind of risk I was facing for clotting again and what to do about things like exercise. Nothing was the same – and everything was an issue since my diagnosis. Nothing was simple, easy, clear-cut or obvious. It was like learning to live all over again.

Even just a few years ago, there were not as many resources about DVT and PE recovery as there are today. I like to think that as resources grow and become more readily available, it must also been we are raising awareness about blood clots. One of the resources more recently developed to help with blood clot recovery is INRTracker.com.

INRTracker.com is free and personal online app to help Warfarin patients manage their INR, medication dosages, vitamin K, doctor appointments, compression stockings and more. In fact, there are 13 different health variables you can manage with INRTracker.

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And, when everything else seems really complicated during recovery, the information at INRTracker is really straightforward to input.

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While it isn’t necessarily ideal for me to log in everyday and note whether or not I have taken my medication, INRTracker would be really helpful to note a medication adjustment, and so far, I have been using it to track my exercise, menstrual cycle, blood pressure and upcoming appointments. Once you start tracking information, you can view your information through concise, customizable charts, which is a feature that I really like. You can also generate your own reports to take to your doctor, a feature that is invaluable when you are trying to remember something or have a question.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 4.58.52 PMINRTracker also has some other great tools that may be helpful during recovery and adjusting to living with the complications of DVT and PE. They are the INR Levels Tool, Vitamin K Food Database and DVT Calculator.

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The INR Levels Tool is designed to help you understand your desired INR value and read about the impact that INR level will have on your Warfarin treatment. And, for any patients who are taking warfarin, it is important to understand the impact of vitamin K on your medication. The Vitamin K Food Database is a comprehensive listing of over 4,500 and their vitamin K content to help ensure you are getting enough vitamin K in your diet. The DVT Calculator and PE Calculator are two tools I also find very useful, particular if you are concerned about another blood clot. While these calculators could help determine if you or someone you know is experiencing a DVT or PE with a specific set of doctor-recommended questions, it is also important to note medical attention should be sought in either case and especially in the case of a PE, which can be life-threatening. INRTracker also offers some very important articles to help educate you about blood clots, including medical terms, diagnosis and tests run by doctors.

What I love about INRTracker is it was created by people who have real-world knowledge of DVT and PE, it’s free, completely customizable and offers a wealth of information all in one, easy to navigate place. What I wish it had is a mobile component so that I could keep track of all of my information on the go (like when I am getting my INR results from the lab) and per the creators, a mobile app is in the development stages.

Connect with INTracker on Facebook and Twitter for more information and updates.

Reader Writes In: How do you manage your life after a blood clot? Have you used INRTracker? Will you give it a try? Have you found any other successful programs to keep you on track?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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The Power of HealtheVoices15

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HealtheVoices 2015, Photo Courtesy of Janssen

I started Blood Clot Recovery Network nearly three years ago after suffering from a DVT and subsequent PE that nearly ended my life. My doctors told me I was lucky to be alive. My family told me they loved me and most of my friends told me nothing except, “Get well soon.” I told myself that for all intents and purposes, my life might as well be over and it would never ever get any better than it was during those initial weeks and months of recovery. Everything hurt, everything was hard, I couldn’t do anything that I loved (like run) and to top it all off, no one understood what I was going through. No one understood me. As a result of my own frustration, fear, panic and isolation, I vowed to find a way to let others going through the same situation know they were not alone. And, I knew there had to be other people like me.

Little did I know, for all the success I had gained in helping others, I was becoming very isolated. It’s difficult to help others through recovery when I am still moving through it myself and managing a blog, a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, Twitter profile and countless messages (not to mention a full-time job and family) is time-consuming, often draining and sometimes heartbreaking. At times, it is like reliving the horror of what happened to me because I can relate to so many of you. I can’t move on completely, I won’t stop talking about it and it keeps me up at night sometimes. Still, I knew I didn’t want to give up, but I also felt like I had no tools to understand and process what I was feeling.

So, I stepped – uncomfortably at best and only with the encouragement of a waiter who was holding the most beautiful shrimp cocktail I have ever seen in my life – into a room full of other people I had never met, in a city I had never been to (naturally, right?!) and squeaked, “Hi, I’m Sara and I had a blood clot, what’s wrong with you?” Or, something like that. It was awkward, it was strange and it pushed me out of my shell, which is actually pretty prevailing in person. And, I never before had the chance to be Blood Clot Recovery Network in person. It was awkward, it was strange and it was uncomfortable, at best. What was I doing? I suddenly knew nothing about blood clots and was having trouble sharing my story out loud. What was I doing, again?

I was attending HealtheVoices15 Conference, hosted by Janssen and Everyday Health, which is an event that was created to bring together online health advocates – when did I become that in person – to discuss, share, learn and inspire one another to continue doing what we do every single day. And, when you think about it, what we do is pretty big, as Clare Martorana Executive Vice President at Everyday Health demonstrated in her opening speech during dinner. We bridge the gap between doctors visits, put health headlines into perspective, create patient advocates, help doctors give their patients better care, help caregivers as well as patients and connect with patients 24/7 – and we do it all with humor and for love, not money.

It hit me like a ton of bricks when Clare mentioned BCRN as an example of bridging the gap between doctors visits during her address. Maybe what I do really does matter. Actually, it hit me like 72 pairs of eyes around the room staring at me. I went to bed that night feeling grateful, content and excited for what was to come the rest of the weekend.

After breakfast Saturday morning, the event kicked off with an empowering and hysterical lecture (although one could hardly call it that) by ZDogg MD. Okay, if you have never heard of him (I hadn’t) you need to find out who he is now. In short, you will laugh – a lot. In length, Dr. Z (a.k.a ZDogg MD) is a doctor turned rapper who is changing the way we are thinking about medicine and patient care at Turntable Health in Las Vegas, Nevada, of which he is the founder. Turntable Health is knocking down barriers that make no sense by changing the way we treat patients by doing things for them, not to them. They’re scrapping traditional medicine to take care of the patients and make people say wow. You will, trust me. And, again, when ZDogg – diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder himself – recognized BCRN as an essential resource for patients recovering from blood clots or treatment (don’t worry, I tried to smile and waved uncomfortably back to him on stage this time), I suddenly knew I was making a difference. I was making a difference in the lives of people I didn’t even know about. Affirmation is a powerful thing. Community and strength in numbers are an even more powerful things. Putting people with aligned visions to make a difference in the lives of others in the exact same room is the most powerful thing.

I stopped being afraid after ZDogg’s session. I started talking to people. I started telling my story, for real, without barriers. I felt safe and among friends. People who got me, didn’t expect anything out of me and for once in my life, understood just what I meant when I said I needed a minute, needed to sit down, prop my leg up, stand up or take a walk around. In fact, maybe they didn’t even understand exactly why, but it didn’t matter. They were like me. They were hurting, they were broken and they were unimaginably unwavering in their battle to survive, prevail and make a difference in the lives of many. I met and shared an immediate connection with Jill of Get up and Get Moving; Beth of Invasive Duct Tales, Brian of A Marine and HIV as well as Debbe of Atrial Fibrillation Support and Melanie of StopAfib.org, who also represented the cardiovascular community with me.

Mellanie, Me, Debbie and Melissa

Mellanie, Me, Debbe and Mellisa

After I connected, I decided to learn as much as possible. My favorite small-group discussions were with Jenni of Chronic Babe (again, if you don’t know who she is, you need to) who has made a life and a business of surviving and thriving despite chronic illness and pain and is helping others understand how to do the same. She’s funny too and extremely empowering when she speaks. From there, I learned about compassion fatigue (emotional burnout of patient advocates, physicians and caregivers) with Dr. Brian Koffman and Six Until Me Blogger Kerri Sparling. I learned about the cost of caring (fatigue, depression and overworking to name just a few) and I learned that I am enough.

And, at the end of it all, I jumped on a [subway] train from NJ to NYC and made my way to Central Park, somewhere I have always wanted to go. Three years ago, I didn’t want to leave my house. Three years ago, I would have never of navigated the subway system by myself. Two weeks ago, I did. It was terrifying, it was beautiful, it was real and it was absolutely invigorating.

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South Central Park, NYC

There’s so much more to come about #HealththeVoices15. So much more. What I really want to say is I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference. Janssen paid for all of my expenses, including travel, and took care of everything I needed while I was there. I was nervous about attending a conference hosted by a pharmaceutical company, mostly because I did not know what to expect or what was expected of me. This conference had absolutely nothing to do with medication or with pharmaceuticals at all. This conference had to do with a progressive and utterly compassionate company that chose to bring health advocates together, in the same room, to discuss health topics and diseases that are effecting lives on a broad scale. This conference was about recognizing and then addressing the need to provide online patients advocates with support, resources and connections needed to continue making a difference in the lives of patients. I always knew I wasn’t alone. What I didn’t know was that I was empowered to continue making a difference. I left HealtheVoices completely energized to keep doing what I do everyday – make a difference in the lives of those suffering from DVT and PE. I left HealtheVoices with a purpose, validation and the realization that I do matter and my work here matters – a lot.

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There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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BCRN is Leaving on a Jet Plane to #HealtheVoices15

When I started this blog just about three years ago after suffering from DVT and PE that almost ended my life, I never imagined it would turn in to what it is today. I never imagined anyone would read it beyond a select few. I never imagined how my readership would grow to countries all around the world, including far away places like Australia and Israel, and that I would make friends in those far away places. I never imagined a Facebook community or the chance to connect with so many of you who have shared the same struggles as I have. I definitely never imagined it would lead to some great partnerships with people like NASCAR’S Brian Vickers and actor/comedian Kevin Nealon. And I never imaged I would be working in collaboration with the National Blood Clot Alliance and the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis to raise awareness around the world in an effort to save lives.

I also never imagined my work here would bring me to a the HealtheVoices Conference in New Jersey this weekend, April 17-19.

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The conference geared at bringing together online patient health advocates (like me!) to help further grow and engage online patient communities. And, as you can imagine, I am really excited about that. Despite my fear of flying, I’m following these travel guidelines and leaving on a jet plane to New Jersey, and I am on my way there right now.

I’ll be learning about things like protecting against compassion fatigue (which is a very real concern and very pertinent for me right now), learning how to provide you with the best support through writing blogging and social media (which I already love to do), how to measure success online and things like how to provide the best support to an entirely virtual community, including changing the culture of medicine though social media. I’ve had a sneak peak of the other attendees and I am also very excited to connect with other advocates discussing other crucial health issues such as diabetes, lupus, mental health and rheumatoid arthritis among others.

You can follow me on social media this weekend using the hashtag #HealtheVoices15. Join the fun and be the first to see what;s happening on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and for making this blog what it already is today. I can’t wait to learn some new skills, find out about new resources, connect with other online health advocates and share it all with you!

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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The HealtheVoices conference is hosted by Janssen and Everyday Health and Janssen paid for my travel expenses for the conference. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Raising Awareness with Kevin Nealon

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You may know Kevin Nealon from his infectious comedies including Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, Daddy Day Care and Anger Management or perhaps as a former Saturday Night Live cast member (1986-1995). Or, maybe you have seen him more recently on Showtime’s Golden Globe winning hit series Weeds.

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What you may not know is that Kevin is also an atrial fibrillation – or AFib – survivor. Just like so many of you, Kevin has battled a life-threatening medical crisis and also like so many of you, he is passionate about sharing his story to help other patients facing a diagnosis of AFib or who are facing a treatment of blood thinners as a result of blood clots, heart attack or stroke. Kevin has partnered with Mended Hearts, a national non-profit organization committed to providing peer-to-peer cardiac support for survivors of AFib and their caregivers from diagnosis to recovery, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals during March to help raise awareness about blood clots.

Each year up to 900,000 Americans experience a blood clot (DVT or PE), resulting in up to 300,000 deaths. Blood clots do not discriminate based on age, sex, lifestyle – or even fame, as in the case of Kevin. AFib is an irregular, or fluttering, heartbeat that puts people who have the condition at a five times greater risk for a blood clot that can cause a potentially fatal stroke. And in fact, AFib accounts for 15 to 20 percent of all strokes. It is estimated that 2.7 million people are diagnosed with AFib and many more do not even know it (Source).

While these are frightening statistics to say the least, speaking to Kevin about AFib was like talking to an old friend and his passion for raising awareness and ensuring that others do not feel alone as a result of their diagnosis and recovery is the resounding message he conveys.

“I love talking to people about the same health issues,” Kevin said, “It creates an instant connection.

Kevin was swimming in Mexico with his then girlfriend several years ago when he had a racing heart that was concerning enough to cause him to seek medical attention at the hospital. He thought he may be having a heart attack.

“In the hospital,” he said, “I joked about having to use the paddles on me to restart my heart. And then I found out how serious my condition was. They put me out and when I woke up the cardiologist told me the paddles didn’t work.”

Once back at home in Los Angeles, Kevin was diagnosed with AFib, which was an extremely emotional time for him.

“It was so upsetting to me emotionally and it really affected my life,” he recalls, “I was playing less basketball and missing out on playing with me son and that really started to affect me. When you have a family, you really want to be around.” Kevin remembered being very worried because AFib changed his thinking about his entire life and his previously active lifestyle.

As part of his treatment plan, Kevin was initially placed on Warfarin to prevent blood clots, which were the biggest and most concerning risk of AFib to him because of the possibility of stroke.

“I did not want to end up with a stroke,” Kevin said.

Kevin eventually switched to taking Xarelto after speaking to his doctor about his lifestyle and needs. For Kevin, a vegetarian, Xarelto allows him the freedom from known dietary restrictions and the freedom to travel to numerous appearances throughout the year without the constant need for blood monitoring.

His resounding message is that facing a life-altering medical condition is something we, together as advocates, can overcome.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Kevin says, “You can live again.”

Kevin advocates for finding a doctor you believe in, as he did, and to remain in constant communication with your medical team about treatment options.

“Ask your doctors about the benefits and risks of the blood thinners available to you and do what works for you.”

Kevin and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, along with Mended Hearts and myself, have teamed up this month to raise awareness about blood clots and blood clot related stroke and deliver a message of hope to those who are suffering from AFib, blood clots and stroke.

And, the good news is, you can help us raise awareness too. Visit www.Drive4Clots.com to watch a video featuring Kevin’s story (along with the stories of NASCAR’s Brian Vickers and golf legend Arnold Palmer), and for every view received, Janssen will make a donation to Mended Hearts. You can also make a difference for patients living with or who are at risk for blood clots and stroke by sharing this message.

Share this message on Facebook:

Visit www.Drive4Clots.com to watch a video featuring actor/comedian Kevin Nealon’s story (along with the stories of NASCAR’s Brian Vickers and golf legend Arnold Palmer), and for every view received, Janssen will make a donation to Mended Hearts to help raise awareness about AFib, blood clots and stroke during #BloodClot Awareness Month.

Share this message on Twitter:

Visit www.Drive4Clots.com to watch videos featuring real stories about blood clot survivors and make a difference. #BloodClot Awareness

Share your story. Did you know Kevin Nealon’s story? Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with AFib? What are you doing to make a difference this month?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

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Thank you to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Kevin Nealon and Michele Packard-Milam of Mended Hearts for the opportunity to discuss AFib, blood clots and blood clot related stroke and raise awareness during Blood Clot Awareness Month and beyond. Together we can make a difference.