We made it...
Here is wishing everyone who comes across this blog the VERY BEST on this new year. May all the GOOD HEALTH, GOOD FORTUNE, and HAPPINESS reach us all.
We are certainly beginning the year with an personal story of a blood survivor that will set the tone for this new year. Blood Clot Survivors CAN DO ANYTHING and Aimee is a perfect example of the fighting spirit we look to celebrate on this blog.
Thank You so much to Aimee for her willingness to share your story and provide us with the opening light that will make 2021 a bright year for all of us.
I believe that we will overcome and I know that you do too.
Please read and on and get inspired...
What is you sport/activity of choice? Why do you enjoy it?
I like to say my activity of choice is any social movement. Funtivities, I call them. I got into swimming, biking, running, and eventually triathlons because others in my life were doing them and I wanted to join them. I never liked team sports, but I've always enjoyed group training for individual goals. My parents and my older sister were runners when I was growing up. They trained for and ran races. As a kid, I aspired to catch up to them. It happened when I was 16. We did a Jingle Bell run together and it was the first 5k where I could keep up: an achievement that came with a feeling of belonging and inclusion. And, still, whenever I do a group workout or a race with family or friends, I have that same feeling of personal achievement and belonging and inclusion.
How did you get started in that sport?
I swam on a swim team when I was growing up because I loved the flow in water and the rhythmic breathing seemed to help me. I struggled to run growing up because I couldn't control my breathing. Swimming seemed to program my lungs and desensitized me to the panic of being out of breath. Whenever I was swimfit, I could run. In college, I lifeguarded at a lap pool in a fitness center. So many runners and cyclists were coming to the pool regularly to pick up swimming for triathlons. I'd give them tips to make their stroke more efficient and give them sets to build their endurance. I'd swim with them to show them examples of drills and flip turns, and began training with some of them or picking up running/biking tips from them. I started doing swim-run workouts with some regulars at our pool and was introduced to the weekly swim-run aquathon race series that was held in town. It was a $5 entry fee and no advance sign-up needed. It was beginner-friendly. I started doing those aquathons in the summers. Each week, getting better and better. I loved the swim-run events, but I wanted to do a triathlon. I was intimidated by the bike: flats, traffic, gears, money, etc. But, a patron lent me her hybrid and I started riding on a bike path with no traffic. Someone taught me how to change a flat there right beside the pool. Incrementally, I became a triathlete, built by our swimming community at the pool I worked at. My first triathlons were the Tucson Triathlon series. They put on 3 a year on the University of Arizona campus, where I attended. It was beginner-friendly and that allowed me to enter the sport.
What is the latest milestone you achieved or plan to achieve?(Long bike ride, some race coming up or that you did)
The latest milestone I achieved was completing my doctorate. This isn't fitness, but it was the longest and most painful endurance activity I ever did and all the lessons I learned from training -- setting goals, incrementally preparing, diversifying activities with hard days and recovery days, pushing through the hurt, finding a "training" group for social accountability and encouragement -- is how I was able to complete it. Fitness wise, I switched gears to prioritize my academic needs – using crossfit to maximize outputs with my limited time.
Tells about your clotting episode. Are you on blood thinners now? How long were you out of commission?
I had an extensive blood clot from my abdomen to my left knee and bilateral pulmonary emboli. We believe the catalyst for this extensive clot was a 110-mile bike race I completed 3 weeks prior to being hospitalized. I was experiencing symptoms through those three weeks, but didn’t know blood clots were a risk for me. I have a genetic clotting disorder (prothrombin gene mutation) that I was not aware of, a condition called May-Thurner Syndrome, which causes a vein in the abdomen to compress/close, that I was also not aware of, and I was taking a hormone birth control medication. All those risk factors combined (multiplied) to cause the extensive clotting over the three weeks.
I was hospitalized for 6 days and I couldn't walk for a couple days. My leg had doubled in size and turned purple. I had surgery to remove the clots and was prescribed warfarin. My medical team recommended at least a year of warfarin, with a 6-month check in.
Losing my ability to walk terrified me and gave me a greater hunger for movement, but I was hesitant to get back on the bike. About a week after being released from the hospital, I started "slogging" (slow jogging). I still had pulmonary emboli in both lobes of my lungs and I had a vena cava filter straining the blood going into my heart. My thought was that it would be safest if I got all remaining clots in veins caught in the filter before it would be removed the following month. I'd slog for barely 2 mins and walk for 2 mins. It felt like running at 7,000 feet and breathing through a big straw, but every run was easier than the next. A little less than a month from when I was admitted to the hospital, I jogged, slowly and carefully, a 5k with my family for New Year’s Day. It was a celebration of being alive and able. My mantra that year became: "I am alive. I am able." And, I kept going.
I was scared to get back on the bike while on warfarin. When I first started warfarin, I had a difficult time keeping my INR from getting too high and would be at risk of not clotting if I crashed. I was a bit devastated to lose riding since it was my weakest discipline and I had just gotten into riding with a cycling team, the Keller Williams Cycling Team of Southern Arizona. Once I mastered warfarin and stabilized my INR, I started riding again very carefully. The leader of this team also led a team for RAGBRAI (Register Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) every year. Throughout the year, he organized various RAGBRAI training and "taster" events (taster meaning to give us a taste of RAGBRAI so we'd commit to join the RAGBRAI team). One such taster event was an overnight back-to-back ride from Tucson to Tombstone, Arizona, and back. It was 70 miles through the desert with about 3,000 feet of climbing, an overnight stay in Tombstone as a team, and returning over the 70-mile ride back the next day. Read: A grand Funtivity!! I was still on Warfarin. It was just before my 6-month check in with my medical team to check on my progress. The desert heat, climbing, and Warfarin made for a TOUGH ride, but I did it. The most concerning part for me was the lack of a shoulder and being passed by RVs. I was worried about having an accident on warfarin. At my 6-month check in, I told my medical team about this ride and we discussed the risk of clotting without warfarin and the risk of severe bleeding/injury on warfarin. My team and I agreed that my risk was lower without warfarin, as long as I stayed active and controlled the other clotting risk factors.
What is your favorite piece of gear for your favorite activity?
I have a Viva Bike Vegas jersey that is one of my favorites because it marks a feat of recovery for me. It was a 118-mile bike ride that I did within a year of my DVT/PEs. It was another hot desert ride with lots of climbing. I got my DVT/PEs right after my first 100-mile bike ride (El Tour de Tucson). I remember hanging up that El Tour medal, thinking 'I'm glad I did this because it may be my last century ride." My cycling team started talking about traveling to Vegas to do Viva Bike Vegas. I was committed to not letting my fears be the reason I was limited. I completed the 118-mile ride, riding much slower than I had in the past (about 10 hours, taking more breaks than I had in my first century race before the clot. Finishing Viva Bike Vegas less than a year from having this extensive clot sealed my recovery. I was recovered.
How much are you getting out doing your sport?
I have been sidelined due to COVID-19 and the rainy season. I live in Oregon now and usually do crossfit through the rainy, dark winter season. I’m a fair-weather athlete and I have an IT band injury that has significantly reduced my running distances. My goal for December is 31 miles for the 31 days. This is my new pace in life and I’m ok with it. With COVID-19 and my clotting disorder, I’m not risk indoor crossfit classes and I’m not provoking injuries that can cause clotting.
What is your favorite food?
Denver omelet, with bacon instead of ham, and avocado, post-workout… and pretty much any time. Next to that, Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups.
If you could go some place to visit and explore, where would like to go?
I've been wanting to do a cycling tour in Ireland or biking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I've also thought of a destination ironman in Australia.
What would like to say to someone who is going through a clotting episode, perhaps very similar to yours? How can people return to do what they enjoy? Tells about your concerns and what you look out after.
It’s important to note that my recovery situation was different than most. I had a surgery to remove the bulk of the clots from my veins. Most people don’t have this and if they’re getting active, it’s with a clot and the concern that the clot will travel.
To those who has a situation similar to mine: It's scary to put pressure on your cardiovascular system, but physical activity is a protective factor. As long as your medical doctor agrees, go slow and easy and start small, but do go…move…be able within your body’s limits. Learn to listen to your body. I had to train myself to listen to my pains rather than ignore them or push through them. Pushing through my pain, ignoring it, embracing the pain as progress – all that contributed to the severity of my condition. The pain is there for a reason and it's our early warning system for injury, and injury is precursor for clotting. The clotting cascade doesn’t start unless there’s an injury or invader that triggers it. Ultimately, it's important to remember what the point of fitness is: health and life. The stats, wins, and status aren't what keeps you alive and thriving and able to enjoy family, friends, and the health you've invested in.
So glad that Aimee was willing to share our story with us. Truly remarkable that she has been able to overcome the challenges that blood clots caused and continue in her journey while being healty. Truly wonderful that you were able to achieve the monummental goal of your doctorate. So impressive for sure. No question that we will be hearing about your destination cycling adventures or perhaps your victory in conquering the Ironman in Austrlia.
I sure want to get on my bike right now and get some miles in to keep up...
Thank you for reading,
The Clot Buster