On Tuesday night I felt this excruciating pain rush through my body. I barely made it through the evening rush hour drive. I came home put my purse down, took some Tylenol and crawled into bed. Wednesday morning I was right as rain and went on about my day. On October 22, 2009 I woke up with a mild nagging pain in my chest. I didn’t think anything of it, figured I was coming down with a cold and brushed it off.
My body was screaming for help and I, I just ignored the signs. I had reached the Sun Ray shopping center, the pain was getting a little worse, still I brushed it off. A few miles down the road that nagging pain turned into what felt like a thousand knives cutting me at once. Breathing was proving to be difficult and my arm was going numb. I’d try to breathe deep, my lungs they fought back and I had to make the decision call mom, no not an option she will panic. Pull over, no you are afraid to be stuck on the side of the road. Oh look Lexington parkway, take the exit.
The exit, I took it. To this day I have no idea how I made it to Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury MN. The only thing I remember is throwing the Prius into park and collapsing into the security guards arms. Some how by the grace of God I made it to safety. When I came to the ER staff ruled out a heart attack and a panic attack, labs were ordered and I apologized for taking up their time. The doctor thought I had an infection in my lungs and ordered an x-ray and labs. As he left the room he turned on his heel and asked “by chance are you on a birth control?” I quickly said yes and he explained what the d-dimer test.
The d-dimer was ordered, my oxygen level was less than 50%, my heart was in sinus tachycardia and my blood pressure continued to climb. I, I was in rough shape. While on my way to x-ray the doctor shouted “where are you going with her? I canceled the x-ray.” I was feeling relieved and waited for him to tell me I had an infect and he was going to send me home. I didn’t get the news I wanted. With caring eyes he told me “the d-dimer came back glaringly positive we need to get you to CT ASAP. He quickly explained that the contrast die could prove deadly but the benefits out weighed the risk. I signed my name and into the scanner I went. They said it would take about 90 minutes for my results to come back.
I watched the clock and counted down the minutes. I could hear the phone ring, the doctor picked it up and said “shit! You have to be kidding, you are not!” Code blue was sounded and I heard a rush of feet come towards me. Within seconds every available hand was in he ER. He took my hand and said, “I am sorry AmandaJean you have a blood clot in your left lung that is blocking the main valve to your heart and your lung sacs have ruptured. Your body is not getting the oxygen it needs and you dear are going to be staying with us for a while.” My brain couldn’t comprehend how dire the situation was. My blood pressure went above 210, I told the nurse I felt woozy, one said it was just the pain meds, another looked at the monitors and said “the fuck it is, she is having a stroke,” he hit the panic button.
Clot busters were shot into my chest, thrombolytics and other medications were being pumped into both arms. I was alone, alone and fighting for my life. The ER doctor walked next to my bed as they were bringing me to the elevator bay. We stopped, he said AmandaJean do you know what’s down that hall? No I said. The morgue, I should be putting you on a slab instead of in a hospital bed. If you had been five minutes later your story would have been different, never ever forget that.
It took a few days for the gravity of what I had survived to sink in. Friends came and visited me, my parents and than husband stood by my side. My life became a series of injections, INR checks, scans, nerotherapy sessions and doctor visits. I was alive and that is what mattered. Almost dying 5 days before your birthday steals your innocence and changes your perspective on life.
I didn’t just survived, I thrived. The ultimate gift was given to me, not many people get a second go around. I treasure every moment of every day, because I know that if I were five minutes late my story would have ended with my ashes in an urn. Survivors rarely talk about the guilt that they feel. I walk this earth with a scarlet letter glued to my head and people tell me that I shouldn’t have a bad day, because I survived the worst day possible.
Yet in the quiet moments I feel guilty that I survived. In the past five years I have said goodbye to more friends than one soul can handle. I survived only to watch my son slip away, I took a seat at Adam’s funeral, wrote a eulogy for Connor, only to follow-up a few years later with a eulogy for Charlie, said a tearful thank you to Dr. Delahaunty, and held my friend Jilliann’s hand as we said goodbye to Trinity. I have been surrounded by so much death and heart ache. I can’t make heads or tails out of who lives and who dies, God definitely has the upper hand on that one.
Hands I’ve got two and my knees are worn from praying. My scars are healed, my body is somewhat back to normal, yet my emotional scars remain. Emotional wounds are he hardest wounds to heal. They slowly disappear with time. Anger was replaced with hope and that hope gave me the strength to make a difference. The guilt it is a reminder that four people had to die so I could be the one out of five who survived. I live each day of this crazy life for them, its the only thing I can do to honor those who went to soon. I vowed to spend my days advocating for those who no longer can and that they would be more than their deaths. Their stories deserve to be told. In one sheer moment of disaster I found my passion. I found that I had a voice and that I had the strength to stand up for myself. I signed my name on the dotted line and became a plaintiff in a product liability lawsuit against Merck.
The Nuva Ring took a lot of things away from me and on the same coin it gave me a life that even I couldn’t have imagine for myself. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and share the most vulnerable moments of your life. Sharing my journey allows me to educate the public about the dangerous side affects of hormonal contraceptive. Sharing my story has allowed me to shape the view points of politicians and to propel heart healthy policies forward. I owe a lot to the American Heart Association, they took me under their wings and gave me a platform. That platform has allowed me to grow and come into my own as a survivor. I am not ashamed to say I had a Pulmonary Embolism and Stroke, I am more than those events, I am more than a survivor, I am and will always be a small town girl who set out to change the world.
The past five years have been a beautiful disaster and I am proud to claim it as my own. Because of quick action and research my life was saved. Every day the American Heart Association gives funds and encourages researches to tread unknown waters. Without the AHA we would not have CPR or advances in heart surgery, early stroke and heart attack detection. Research is why. Advocacy is why. Life is why. Second Chance is why. Without the AHA there would be no why in this world and we would have no hope for a heart healthy tomorrow.
I am incredibly thankful to my Woodwind’s care team, without them I never would have gotten to experience pregnancy followed by loss, then divorce, a little adventure followed by a whole lot of love and mostly without them I never would have gotten the chance to hold my niece. Without them my story would have ended at 26. Instead I got five beautiful borrowed years on this earth and I plan on borrowing a few more. Because life, its only just begun.