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Heart Survivor Story - Jessica Phillips

Jessica PhillipsShortly after welcoming her youngest son into the world, Jessica noticed a red, painful and swollen area on her calf. She was concerned, but never imagined 9 days later she would be unable to breathe, fighting for her life with a pulmonary embolism in both lungs. 

Jessica had the new-mom part down pat (it was her fourth, after all) but the issues with her leg were something new. The doctor suspected superficial thrombophlebitis, a blood clot that occurs in the superficial veins, closer to the skin, and is more common in women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. The results of a Doppler scan were negative for any deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which are dangerous blood clots that develop in the deep veins and can travel to the lungs, stopping blood flow. 

Discharged the next day, Jessica was happy to get home to her other three children and enjoy their newest addition. She was given instructions to elevate her leg periodically, get some rest, and continue taking a low molecular weight heparin injections for two more weeks. Jessica had been on this medication to prevent clots during her pregnancy, as well as her previous pregnancy, because of a genetic condition discovered three years prior. (prothrombin 20210 mutation, or Factor II mutation).  

At home, she continued to feel discomfort in her leg, but she wasn’t worried because everything had checked out fine. One week after discharge, Jessica climbed back into bed after feeding her now 9-day-old son. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe, as if a ton of bricks was on her chest. She grabbed her husband Bart’s arm and told him to call 911 right away. Bart recalls that her lips, neck, chest, and fingernails were blue, and her eyes looked as if they were somewhere else. Her skin was pale and clammy. She thought she was dying. 

The ambulance arrived within minutes and whisked her to the ER at Baton Rouge General. A CAT scan showed a massive pulmonary embolism (PE) in both of her lungs, the largest her doctors had seen. PEs are blood clots that become lodged in an artery in the lung, blocking blood flow. They can cause the heart to struggle and can lead to heart failure or cardiac arrest. Jessica was in a life-threatening situation. (A CT scan also revealed two completely clotted veins in her left leg, the same area that had been hot, red, painful, and swollen starting 24 hours after delivery.) 

What started as a ton of bricks on her chest at 6 a.m. had turned into full blown pulmonary shock by 2:15 p.m. Jessica recalls it feeling like her life was seeping out of the bottom of her feet. Too critical for any invasive measures, doctors administered tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), a clot-busting medication that is standard in treating PEs. It was a last resort, and a risky one at that – she was also at a very high risk of internal bleeding because of the C-section she had days before. For some massive PEs, tPA is not enough. So the Phillips family waited. For hours, outside the ICU. 

It worked. Jessica pulled through her near-death experience and has been a force for change since.  

As a result of her experience, the hospital where she had her baby took steps to continue promoting awareness and focus on DVT as well as blood clotting disorders as they affect pregnancy, delivery, and recovery. They now perform follow-up Doppler scans if the clinical symptoms of DVT persist a day or two after discharge, and have improved both physician and patient awareness of DVT/PE, including education on warning signs, upon discharge. 

As a survivor, Jessica believes she experienced a miracle, but she doesn’t want anyone to end up in the situation she did. She stresses being aware of your risk and knowing the signs and symptoms of DVT and PE. In addition to spreading her message, Jessica and Bart stay busy with their four kids – Annslee, 19; Barton, 17; Scarlett, 14; and Stone, 13.