By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News
For U.S. women’s soccer star Ali Krieger, fresh from her World Cup victory this summer and now headed to Olympic training in Seattle, the future looks spectacularly bright.
A decade ago, however, Krieger, then a 21-year-old Penn State soccer standout, suffered a life-threatening blood clot after undergoing surgery to repair a broken leg .
Now, Krieger is a volunteer spokesperson for the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, helping to educate people about deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in the legs, and pulmonary embolism (PE), blood clots that travel from the legs to the lungs.
Every year, up to 900,000 people in the U.S. have a DVT or PE, according to the CDC, and up to 100,000 die.
WebMD asked Krieger to recount that scary time, talk about how far she’s come and offer her best advice for prevention.
WebMD: How did you break your leg?
Krieger: We were playing a scrimmage with the club men’s team at Penn State. They would come out for training purposes. I just remember being tackled by one of these guys. I remember feeling a sharp pain in my leg. I knew immediately something was wrong. We went to the hospital.
I had a spiral fracture of the fibula on the right leg (a break in the lower leg caused by twisting force). I had to have surgery to fix it, and had plates put in. I had surgery two days later, November 9, 2005.
WebMD: How did the blood clot happen?
Krieger: In December, I was able to fly with the team. [After that], I flew down to Florida to visit my mom and see her new home. I flew back to see my dad in northern Virginia for Christmas. Then I flew back to Florida in January for my mom’s wedding. I began to feel pain in the chest and shortness of breath when I was at my mom’s house. I was 21, athletic and an athlete. I was gasping for air. I was thinking, why am I so exhausted? The next day [after the wedding] was when I flew back up to school.
That night, the guy I was dating at the time came over to see me. He was an athlete at Penn State, and he was pre-med, and he said, ‘Let me take your pulse.’
He took my pulse and it was racing, at a resting pace. He said, ‘You know, let’s go to the hospital.’ I had a CT scan, an MRI and an ultrasound. They told me, ‘You are suffering from a pulmonary embolism.’ I had no idea what it was.
WebMD: How could that happen to someone so young and fit?
Krieger: I was on birth control pills, [had] the surgery and the flights. They said it was a perfect storm for it to occur. On the flights, I never got up. I was not weight bearing (after my leg surgery) so I would have had to crutch it down the aisle.
WebMD: How were you treated?
Krieger: I was put on Coumadin [a blood thinner]. I had to give myself two shots of [another blood thinner] Lovenox (enoxaparin) in my stomach for several months.
WebMD: According to the CDC, about one-third of people with DVT/PE have a recurrence within 10 years. Have you had any problems?
Krieger: No. I’ve had two surgeries since then. I went back on blood thinners before and after those surgeries in 2009 and 2012. Everything has been great since. No recurrence, no sign of blood clotting.
WebMD: Did the blood clot affect your training in any way?
Krieger: It did in the beginning. The DVT put me back even more [after recovery from the surgery]. I had to get used to running, get my heart rate up to a high training level, let more oxygen get to my blood.
WebMD: Have you made any lifestyle changes?
Krieger: For me, it’s been more making sure I am getting up during a flight and taking time to move around. I’m still a little bit afraid this might occur again, that I might clot again.
You have to be aware. Even if you are sitting on a plane, train or in the car, you have to do that. If it’s longer than an hour and a half, I’ll probably get up two or three times and just stretch or go to the bathroom and then go back to my seat.
My advice is, when you are traveling, really make sure that you are moving around properly. I think maybe if I could have done that, this may not have occurred.