Real Stories from People Who Have Experienced Blood Clots – Natalia Kozak-Muiznieks

Natalia’s Story

Natalia Kozak Muiznieks

Natalia Kozak-Muiznieks is a Research Microbiologist with the Respiratory Disease Branch of the Division of Bacterial Diseases.

July 20th, 2005 is a day I’ll never forget. I was a graduate student at UCLA, and it was the summer before my last year completing my PhD. I had an important presentation that day, which required me to squeeze five years of research into a 15-minute presentation for the funders of my research.

I was under a lot of academic pressure, and the day before my presentation, I received a ton of corrections for the presentation from my professor. I spent five hours sitting at my laptop in the lab, with no bathroom or food breaks, and practiced my presentation all evening before going to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I was experiencing pain in my right calf. I also had some bruising. I hadn’t exercised or fallen the day before, so I had no idea what it could be from, but I brushed it off because I had more important things to worry about, like my presentation. The pain was quite intense, and that morning I limped into the lab. One of my colleagues, who was a GI (gastrointestinal) doctor was there. He was very friendly and always making jokes, but when I told him about my leg and he observed my limping, his entire demeanor changed, and he became very serious. He suggested that I go to the student clinic immediately after my presentation.

I gave my presentation, and went to the clinic right after. By then, my leg had become swollen. When I was examined by the doctor at the clinic, I was sent immediately to the Emergency Room. When I arrived, around 6 p.m. that evening, I had an ultrasound and I was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg).

After my diagnosis, I had to inject myself with warfarin (a blood thinner) for a week, and I had tests run to check for a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung), which thankfully came back negative. My blood was tested, and no genetic predispositions (an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on a person’s genetic makeup) to blood clots were found. The doctors thought that my blood clot was caused by using birth control, combined with long periods of sitting, which can both increase the risk for developing a blood clot. I felt angry, because I wasn’t fully aware of the risks of birth control. I knew they had the potential to cause blood clots, but I thought because I was young, wasn’t a smoker, and didn’t have any of the other risk factors, I was okay. I doubt that most women really understand the risks of blood clots from use of birth control, and most pharmaceutical companies don’t seem to emphasize this very important point. People need to know about all of the risks for blood clots.

Since my diagnosis 10 years ago, I have learned a lot about blood clots and how to prevent them. I am very careful now to avoid getting another one. I am careful when I travel. I always select an aisle seat when booking flights, and make sure to get up and move around while traveling. When I became pregnant with my son, I was at high risk for blood clots because estrogen levels increase during pregnancy, and I had to take heparin (a blood thinning medication) every day to avoid developing another clot. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had to give myself heparin injections twice a day.

If I could say one thing to those at high risk for blood clots, I would strongly encourage you to learn the signs and symptoms of a clot. I would never have seen a doctor if my colleague hadn’t urged me to, and things could’ve turned out very differently for me. I would also suggest making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk, when possible.

CDC would like to thank Natalia for sharing this personal story.