A suburban husband and wife who are recovering from dangerous blood clots have a warning for anyone who spends long hours traveling.
The Lifkas used to run a lot. Now the endurance athletes are taking things a bit slower. Forty-one-year-old Chris Lifka is recovering from blood clots in both lungs. The triathlete had just finished a grueling iron man competition. Little did he know the pain he and been feeling in his mid section for weeks was more than muscle strain or indigestion. He started coughing up blood and ended up in the hospital.
"I was scared my heart sank. I'm like this is crazy. I was just in here two weeks ago with my wife who was admitted for a blood clot in her arm," said Chris Lifka.
Forty-year-old Tammy Lifka, an accomplished runner, noticed some swelling and a feeling of heaviness in her arm. An ultrasound also revealed a dangerous blood clot.
"It's very unusual to see a husband and wife have blood clots and the thing that makes it more interesting is that they were diagnosed in a short time frame.. three weeks or so," said Dr. John Conroy, the Lifkas' family physician, Adventist Family Healthcare.
So how does a couple in top shape end up with blood clots? Doctors suspect the trouble started after Tammy Lifka took a spill on her bike followed by a 17-hour car ride for both Lifkas from Colorado to Illinois just before Labor Day.
"They said this is really serious and I knew nothing about it," said Tammy.
Deep vein thrombosis or DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. Clots can travel to the heart or lungs where they are potentially fatal.
Anyone can get blood clots including athletes who sometimes combine long distance travel with competition. Sitting in a plane or car for hours can affect circulation. Add to the mix dehydration which can also slow circulation and any kind of trauma, even minor such as a bruise from a fall and the risk goes up.
"Perhaps if you overdo it and develop a little bit of muscle strain or overuse or inflammation surely that can increase your risk a little bit more," said Dr. Sherwin Ho Sports Medicine, University of Chicago Medical Center.
Dr. Ho believes being in shape probably helped the Lifkas in the long run. He says the take-home message is if you are immobilized for hours at a time anyone can be at risk of DVT.
"All you have to do is move your ankle up and down 10 times and it gets the calf muscle working to pump that blood our of the lower extremities back up to the heart and decrease your risk of blood clots," said Dr. Ho.
Both Lifkas are doing well and they hope their bizarre tale will serve as a warning to others.
"We never would have thought in a million years a car ride would have put us both in the hospital in the situation that we were in," said Tammy Lifka.
The symptoms of a blood clot may feel similar to a pulled muscle or 'charlie horse.' Doctors say to watch out for a swollen leg. There could also be pain, tenderness, discoloration or a warm feeling in the leg. Those who recently had surgery are more susceptible as are smokers and women taking birth controls pills. Some people may also be at risk due to a genetic disorder.
National Blood Clot Alliance
Stop the Clot