Kara’s Story: No panic attack – ED team finds blood clot

Kara“She had come in dying,” Dustin Calhoun, MD, emergency medicine physician at West Chester Hospital, says about Kara Sicking, 35, of Mason, when she was admitted last August. “There were moments we were very concerned she was not going to make it.”

Kara’s ordeal began after she had received outpatient OB/Gyn surgery. After a weekend of rest, she felt a sharp pain in her leg and was having trouble catching her breath. After a visit to an urgent care center, she was told she was having a panic attack, a diagnosis that was dangerously wrong. A couple of days later, Kara experienced more severe breathing problems, nearly losing consciousness, and was taken to the West Chester Hospital emergency department.

“The nurse took one look at me and said, ‘Get her to trauma right away.’ She didn’t even know my history, but she knew it was no panic attack,” Kara says. “I know my nurse doesn’t like to take credit for saving my life, but she really took charge and found a doctor immediately.”

“I knew she was in serious trouble. You just learn and know from years of experience,” says the lifesaving nurse of 25 years, Jenifer Brodsky, RN. “She had a very fast heart rate and her breathing was very fast. She had a very low oxygen level, which someone her age should not have. That was my assessment in a matter of seconds. When I learned she had a surgical procedure recently performed, my suspicion was quite high that we were dealing with a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot, that had moved to her lungs.”

“Our emergency department employs very high quality nurses. When they have a concern, they have the power to act,” says Dr. Calhoun. “In a case like Kara’s, a 10-minute delay could have been a big issue. In this case, our system continued to function extremely well.”

The blood clot in Kara’s leg was perhaps a complication of her surgery, combined with medication, she had taken. The clot had broken off and moved to her lungs. Dr. Calhoun infused clot-busting medicine into her body as quickly as possible in what he knew was a race against time since her vital signs were failing.

Kara, who was able to remain conscious, vividly remembers Brodsky saying to her, “You need to be here. I won’t let you die.” Kara said a few minutes later it was like a light switch went on and she began breathing on her own. “It went away as fast as it came on.”

The next day Kara became West Chester Hospital’s star patient. “A lot of doctors and nurses kept coming to see me,” she says. “They had heard about this miracle. They all said, ‘We couldn’t believe you made it when we learned of your dangerous condition.’ If it hadn’t been the worst experience of my life, it was the best. No one has taken care of me the way they did.”

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