I had been having sharp, stabbing pains in my right lung area under my breast bone on an off for a few months. It was so intense, it actually took my breath away and I’d have to speak in small, quick sentences until I could catch my breath again. My rheumatologist thought it might be pleurisy, which is where your lung lining is inflamed and rubs against your chest walls. Of course, every time I would get an appointment and go in to see him with this pain, it was never acting up so he advised that next time it happened, to go to the Urgent Care or ER to be looked at immediately and they could do an X-ray and see what exactly was going on.
So it happened as I was walking through Target and I thought I was going to die right in the cat food aisle. It was like an ice pick being driven into my lung. Luckily, Urgent Care is two streets over so we hurried over there. Oddly, the X-ray didn’t show anything but my D-dimer blood test was really high – it was 3400+ and it was supposed to be about 700 I think they said. This test indicated I likely had a blood clot. So Urgent Care forwarded me onto the ER where a CT scan confirmed two clots in my lungs and from what I was told, they were pretty good sized. I was admitted and given lots of nice pain meds.
The next morning, the hematologist came in to talk me about treatment for my clots. The ER staff had given me heparin practically the moment the CT scan confirmed the clots but my hematologist added in Coumadin, which was given via painful injections in the belly that causes massive black and purple bruises. It hurt! As we talked, he explained to me that lupus alone carries a blood clotting risk but when you add in birth control pills, it’s just a double whammy because the pills have their own clotting risk as well. I was basically a walking, ticking blood clot time bomb! He began asking about my family medical history…
Him: “Did your parents or any of your grandparents suffer or die from pulmonary embolisms?”
Me: “Nope! No.”
Him: “You seem so sure.”
Me: “I’m a genealogist so, yeah, I know what they died of.”
He stood there, somewhat dumbfounded, I think, for a few seconds before telling me how interesting that was and he’d never met a genealogist before. As we talked about what my grandparents did die of, he said he wished more patients were aware of their family’s medical history. With pulmonary embolisms, there is a genetic component that can get passed down that can increase your risk for clots. While I was sure I likely didn’t have this gene, he ran a DNA test on me anyways, which was negative, as I had expected. I had my DNA analyzed as part of the lupus study and this wasn’t one of the carriers I had showing so it wasn’t a surprise to me that his DNA test came back negative.
Oddly, the importance of knowing my family medical knowledge came into play again when I came home from the hospital. My great aunt asked me if we had any long term diseases running in our family. While it was a worrisome question since I wondered if something was amiss with my great aunt’s health, it gave me a good reason to sit down and compile a list of what issues my family did suffer from. It was so shocking and insightful to see how many of my family had died of kidney issues. My maternal grandmother, Clara Louise Peters Stewart, died of polycystic kidney disease and the gene has carried on to her daughter, my aunt. My mom suffers from horrible kidney stones and has had innumerable surgeries to remove them. My own daughter has always battled unexplained, severe UTI’s throughout her life that require rounds of medication. As I worked on this list, it was just mind boggling to see multiple, multiple others farther back had died of chronic nephritis, uremic coma and Bright’s Disease. It seems our family has a natural predisposition for kidney issues.
While certainly not definitive, knowing your family’s medical history can provide certain insights for doctors. If you haven’t already, perhaps consider taking time to compile a list for your family. It might prove helpful to future generations to know what hereditary diseases/illness they might be prone to.