Pulmonary Embolism Leads to Emergency Surgery on Christmas Day
Like many, Martin Hill of Hanover, Maryland was caught up in the rush of the holiday season. A husband, father of four and grandfather, Martin didn’t know what to think when he suddenly had trouble breathing while out shopping in the days before Christmas. The episodes were enough to startle him, but sitting down and resting for a few minutes seemed to help. What Martin did not realize at the time was that these episodes were symptoms of a pulmonary embolus, a blood clot that blocks an artery in the lungs.
Martin, a retired military professional, is now a full-time security officer, and spends most of his time behind a counter with occasional walking rounds. Despite being otherwise healthy, his long hours of little movement were placing him at risk for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in his legs.
On Christmas Eve, Martin left work and drove straight to church for the midnight service. He noticed as he began to remove his coat that he was having difficulty raising his arm; he was also having trouble breathing. After his breathing did not return to normal within a few minutes, an ambulance was called and Martin was taken to the local emergency room. Hospital staff performed a CAT scan and discovered multiple blood clots in both of his lungs. Martin’s condition was deteriorating rapidly, as the blockages were preventing his body from getting oxygen, and the decision was made to transport Martin by ambulance to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) for specialized care and treatment.
On Christmas Day, Murtaza Dawood, MD, performed a pulmonary embolectomy to remove the clots in Martin’s lungs. A post-surgical ultrasound showed blood clots in the deep veins of Martin’s legs. As a result, Dawood also placed a filter in Martin’s vena cava, a large vein that carries blood to the heart, to prevent any further blood clots from entering his chest cavity. The procedure went well, and Martin’s hospital stay totaled only five days.
For the first four months following the procedure, Martin was not able to lift more than 10 pounds at a time and was also restricted from holding both hands over his head or around his back. For the full-time security officer and Boy Scout volunteer, this was difficult. Martin is happy to be back at work, and he exercises frequently to help keep his recovery on track.
Martin says that the experience has him looking at life a little differently, and he’s educated his Boy Scouts about what he’s learned. He advises to never ignore the warning signs that your body might send. “Risk factors for developing DVT include history of prolonged immobility (travel, hospitalization), obesity, use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, malignancy, surgery or lower extremity injury,” says Dawood. “The most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath at rest or minimal exertion, pain with inspiration, and cough, with or without associated leg/thigh pain.”
Martin also tells his Boy Scouts to focus on things they’d like to accomplish and spend time with those they cherish. Needless to say, Martin is gratefully following his own advice.