March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolus (PE) Awareness Month. Dr. Harper met Sydney Swyryn and her family at the recent Run to Lose 5K event in Warner Robins, Georgia. Her Mom shared her daughter Sydney’s inspiring story of DVT and hope with Dr. Harper. They asked that we share her story with you.
Sydney had just graduated from Perry High School where she was in the color guard. She was looking forward to attending Georgia Southern University in the fall. Only a few days after her 18th birthday, her life changed.
“At first my right leg started to hurt,” she said. It felt like a pulled muscle, so I didn’t think anything of it. By that night my leg was swollen and purple. My parents had me ice and elevate it. The next morning, it was not better and I had an ultrasound examination of my leg and was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis, a blood clot involving most of the deep veins in my right leg.”
A procedure to administer a drug to dissolve the clot was recommended. However, a CT scan detected that the clot was more serious than anticipated. It extended into the large vein in the abdomen (vena cava). “My physician, Dr. Noman Malik, transferred me to Emory University in Atlanta that evening. I’m glad he did the scan and made the call for me to be transferred. Otherwise, I might have died,” Sydney said.
At Emory, a team of specialists was waiting. “They inserted a filter into my inferior vena cava to avoid a Pulmonary Embolus (PE), clots that might dislodge and travel to my lungs. A PE could have killed me,” she said. “After a night in the ICU, I had procedures to deliver clot busting drugs into the clotted veins. As the larger clots dissolved, stents were placed in the veins and IV heparin was given to help prevent future clots. They couldn’t dissolve the clots in the small veins in my lower leg because of swelling, but hoped once the larger clots were dissolved, the circulation and swelling would improve.”
“That first week was a blur. My doctors and nurses took great care of me and my family. Everything improved, except my swelling. The swelling and increased pressure eventually damaged the muscles and nerves in my leg. In an attempt to relieve the pressure and save my leg, a fasciotomy (an eight inch incision on both sides of my leg) was performed. While the surgery helped the swelling, I did not regain feeling or movement in my foot.”
“Two days later, my surgeon Dr. Dodson took me back to surgery. I awoke from surgery with bad news,” she said. “The damage to my leg muscles and nerves was irreversible and making me sicker. He needed to amputate to save my life,” Sydney recalled. “My surgery was the next morning. As soon as the leg was removed, I immediately began to improve. A few days after the amputation, I was moved from the ICU to a private room and was on my way to recovery and beginning a new life as an amputee.”
“From the minute I was diagnosed with blood clots, my doctors and nurses asked if there was a family history of blood clots. Later, we found out my dad had one of the most common inherited clotting abnormalities: Factor V Leiden. Even though he had never had a blood clot himself, his doctor told him he should take an aspirin every day. He has an increased risk of clots and needs to take added precautions when he has surgery or is on long flights or trips. I now know that some clotting problems can be inherited. If there is a family history of clots other family members should be tested, too.”
“While waiting on my blood test for a clotting disorder, I had several setbacks. First, I had a reaction to the blood thinner Heparin (increasing my risks for new blood clots) and was switched to Argatroban, a different class of IV blood thinner. Eventually I was converted from IV Argatroban to an oral anticoagulant Coumadin. Even this was not without event, as my Coumadin level was difficult to adjust,” Sydney said with a smile. “I even developed swelling and a new blood clot in my left leg while on Coumadin. This was caught early and treated with another round of Argatroban before resuming the Coumadin.”
“My blood test came back positive for Factor V Leiden, the same genetic marker my Dad has. My hematologist told me that several factors may have created the perfect storm for my clots: I was on birth control pills, had taken the Gardasil shot several months earlier, had not been as active since I graduated high school, and was no longer in the color guard. For now, I remain on Coumadin but my doctors are hopeful that I can come off Coumadin soon. I will still need to take precautions if I have surgery, become immobile, or travel.”
With physical therapy, Sydney regained strength and learned to navigate again. “The good news was that I went straight home at discharge. I was so happy! As I recovered, I went on day trips and did exercises with a walker while outdoors,” she said. “At times I felt uncomfortable like everyone was staring at me. But, it was a feeling I was able to overcome.”
“It has been an emotional and a painful journey, but thanks to great care, a loving family, and supportive friends, I have been able to make the best of it. If you want to learn more, join my Facebook page: Sydney’s Journey,” she said. “It was really amazing how many people wished me well and prayed for me. I am amazed at how thoughtful everyone was to think of us.”
Dr. Harper met Sydney and her Mom when she participated in the Run to Lose 5K event in February with her new prosthetic leg. “I am happy to be independent again,” she said. “I know this is a life-long journey, but I accept the challenge. I have chosen not to sit around, mope, or be upset. Sometimes people don’t know how to respond to people with disabilities. I want to thank my friends who treat me like normal.”
“I am currently attending college close to home but want to attend Georgia Southern soon where I will major in math. I would love to do color guard again. It is what it is and I’m ready to move on.”
Donations can be mailed or dropped off at The Bank of Perry:
1006 Main Street
Perry, GA 31069
Attn: Christy Graham
Mark them for “Sydney’s Journey”
Are You At Risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis?
If you or someone you know is concerned about their risk for life threatening vein diseases like Venous Thromboembolism (VTE), Pulmonary Embolus (PE), or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), or are susceptible to varicose veins, spider veins, and leg swelling, please call Vein Specialists of the South at 478-743-2472 or visit www.veinspecialists.com to learn how we can help you. At VSS, we are committed to helping you enjoy healthy veins for life.