Melanie Bloom has become a spokeswoman for the symptoms and causes of an often-silent killer, deep vein thrombosis.
But she had never heard the phrase until one of the blood clots broke off and moved into her husband David's lungs, killing him, while the NBC journalist was covering the Iraq war as an embedded reporter in 2003.
She told her story at the University of Utah School of Medicine Tuesday to raise awareness of DVT and one of its potentially lethal complications, pulmonary embolism. Her appearance was sponsored by University Health Care's Thrombosis Service and the Coalition to Prevent DVT.
DVT is a blood clot in the deep veins, usually in the legs. The result may be pain, swelling, redness and warmth. Or there may be few or even no symptoms, according to Dr. Robert Pendleton, director of the U. thrombosis program. It's a condition that afflicts as many as 2 million Americans a year and, when one develops, there is a one in three chance of a recurrence within the next decade.
A blood clot that breaks off and moves into the lungs is a pulmonary embolism, creating shortness of breath, sharp chest pain and sweating. It can kill, which may be the first symptom. An estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of hospital-related deaths are due to pulmonary embolism, the majority without symptoms. That's why Pendleton said it's important to take preventive steps. It is "the most preventable death in hospitals."
An estimated 600,000 people are hospitalized with DVT, and 60,000 die each year in this country. About 60 percent of the DVTs and subsequent emboli are hospital-related.
"Being in the hospital presents very profound risk," said Dr. Scott Stevens of Intermountain Medical Center.
Risk factors include surgeries, particularly of the hip or knee, restricted mobility, obesity, respiratory or congestive heart failure and cancer. Age, blood clotting disorders and some medications also can lead to DVT.
Nationally, 79 percent of hospitals take preventive steps routinely. In Utah, the number is higher, according to Pendleton, at 83 percent. Hospitals are much better at taking precautions after surgery, with which a third of cases are associated. But most patients with DVT have been hospitalized for nonsurgical reasons, and about 15 percent of those patients who are at risk are not given prophylactic care, Pendleton says.
Stevens said that treatment includes use of blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin.
When clots break off and hit the lungs, the results vary substantially, he said. The smaller clots do less damage but are more painful because of where they lodge.
David Bloom, co-anchor and reporter for Weekend Today, was embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division in 2003, determined to tell the soldiers' stories, his wife said. She was frightened but of the war, not the blood pooling in his leg in the cramped quarters of his wartime transportation. He called home often on a satellite phone, and during the last call, he casually mentioned leg cramps. That's a symptom.
His death was "due to this silent and stealthy condition that was difficult to detect," she said. DVT has claimed more victims that AIDS and breast cancer combined. Autopsy revealed that Bloom, an apparently robust man of 39 years, had an undiagnosed inherited heart disorder and other risk factors. He was also dehydrated.
Educating others, she said, gives her a "place to channel my grief" and "transform it into something positive."More information on DVT is online at www.preventdvt.org.