Home » Uncategorized » Heather’s Story: When is Pneumonia not Pneumonia

Heather’s Story: When is Pneumonia not Pneumonia

[Editor’s note:  ClotCare, from time to time, will post stories from individual patients who want to help raise awareness of clotting problems by sharing the details of their experience.  Heather’s story is very similar to what happened with a female student at the University of Texas a few years ago in that both presented with the “classic” features of a pulmonary embolism (PE) and both were diagnosed as having pneumonia.  In Heather’s case, after two emergency room visits, an ambulance transfer to a teaching hospital, and two days’ of hospitalization, the correct diagnosed of a PE was made.  Unfortunately, the UT student who was treated for pneumonia died from her unrecognized PE after repeated visits for her “pneumonia”.  According to Heather’s story, appropriate treatment was delayed until the next day even after the correct diagnosis was made, the probability of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in her leg was not evaluated, graduated compression stockings were not prescribed and a evaluation for a clotting disorder was not considered.]

Hi, my name is Heather. I am 18 years old and I’ve just graduated High School. In June of 2015, I decided to try to begin my Nursing career by taking CNA classes. I was quickly hired on at a local nursing home facility. A month went by, and I did not like my job as much as I thought I would have. I left the facility. A week after leaving my job, I began to have sharp pains in my right thigh and hip. I figured I had pulled a muscle due to transferring residents at the facility, so I tried to rest. The next day, the pain had moved to my right side just underneath my rib cage, and also to my right shoulder blade. It was painful to breathe, so my Mother and I decided to take a trip to the Emergency Room.

After being given a room and 2 liters of intravenous fluids, it was time to get a CT scan done. I had to move off of my bed and into another. Laying straight down, I could not get a breath of air whatsoever. I was glad to have the CT scan done and over with, believe me. I was rolled back into my room, and waited for the results of the scan. A doctor came in a little while later, and explained that I have pneumonia in my right lung, as well as gall stones. He also had told me, surgery would be scheduled later that week to have the gall stones removed. I was sent home with antibiotics and a rescue inhaler and was told to take Ibuprofein as needed. The next day came, and the pain only got worse. I was unable to talk, walk, or breathe without being in severe pain. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen and I felt as if I was about ready to pass out. My parent’s rushed me back to the Emergency Room.

After being wheeled into the hospital, my vital signs were taken and I was quickly given an observation room. My heart rate was 167, my oxygen in the 70’s. I was gasping for air. The nurses put a cannula in my nose and set the oxygen dial to 2 liters per minute, gave me a small dose of Morphine and also gave me intravenous fluids. They patched stickers all over my body, getting me ready for an EKG. I texted my boyfriend and let him know what was going on whilst in the midst of all this, and he was in the observation room with me in a split second. After the nurses had left, I just stared at my parent’s and my boyfriend, Ricky. He layed his hand on mine and started to tear up when he said, “I hate seeing you like this, I don’t like it, babe.” I started to tear up too. I didn’t like it either. I could only imaging the things that were going through his head at the moment.

An hour or so went by and my heart rate was still very high and my oxygen level very low. The doctor decided I needed to be sent to UK Hospital here in Kentucky for further observation. Ricky and I both started crying, while my parent’s reassured us that everything was going to be okay. Forty-five minutes later, two unfamiliar men with a stretcher were standing right outside my door. “You ready?” They asked me. I didn’t say anything back to them. They raised my bed, and transferred me onto the stretcher. I was wheeled out into the hallway, where I kissed my boyfriend and parent’s, and told them I would see them in a bit.

I had never been in an ambulance before, so I had no clue what to expect. Once I was in the ambulance, one of the men introduced himself to me while hooking me back up to some crazy contraption. I had decided I would try to sleep on the way to Lexington, because I live nearly two hours away. I didn’t want to worry that I would stop breathing in the ambulance, due to lack of oxygen. I didn’t want to think about what would happen to my family if something horrible happened to me. So I slept as best as I could on a bumpy trip. Waking up here and there, hoping Ricky and my parents were behind us.

Once I arrived at UK, I was placed in another observation room. Immediately being hooked up to oxygen and being put on another 2 liters of intravenous fluids. Five minutes later, I could see my parents and my boyfriend walk through the Observation Rooms’ entry. I waved at them, and they all came running towards me. They hugged and kissed me, and asked if I were okay. I told them, “I’m tired, but I’m alright.” Besides, it was two in the morning when I arrived at UK, who isn’t going to be tired? Everybody sat beside my bed, keeping a close eye on me. It was around eight in the morning, a nurse came in my room to get me for an X-ray. I had to stand for the X-ray and take deep breaths, which was very painful for me. I was just glad to be sitting back down in the wheelchair when we were finished. Once getting back to the room, my parents explained to me that they had to get back home and get some extra clothes and sleep a little longer while Ricky stayed with me. He had told me the only way he is leaving the hospital is with me.

Ricky took such good care of me while my parents were gone. Helping me get comfortable in my bed, giving me sips of Sprite when I needed it, getting a nurse when I was in pain, etc. A nurse even brought in a new bed big enough for the both of us to sleep in, how sweet! I know it must not have been easy running on little or no sleep, but he did it because he loves me. That evening when my parents were back, it was time for another CT Scan, which I dreaded. I already knew laying straight down, was going to be tremendously painful. Thankfully, it was quick and the technician helped make me comfortable while on the bed. Another day went by with nothing but continuous oxygen, intravenous fluids and pain medication. One early morning I was woken up to have an ultrasound of my gallbladder done. The technician had seen plenty of gall stones in my gallbladder, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear. A team of surgeons came into my room later that day to talk about surgery options and what not.

The very next day, a doctor came into my room, and sat down in a chair next to me. He shook my hand, and asked how I was doing that day. He introduced himself and started to explain to me that he had looked over my X-ray and CT Scan a countless amount of times. He said to me, “I found it very odd, to see a healthy 18 year old girl on oxygen. And even crazier that when the cannula is taken out your oxygen level drops. So I decided to dig a little deeper.” I began to think to myself, “Is this what we have all been waiting to hear?” He continued explaining to me, that he had found a Pulmonary Embolism in my right lung, otherwise known as a blood clot. We were all shocked. “Primarily, we believe this is from your birth control pills. Even though you had only been taking them for three months, you are the unlucky girl that actually developed one of the risks your doctor mentioned before you started taking the birth control.” My Mother and I looked at each other, confused. We told him we didn’t know that blood clots are a risk in girls my age. The warning label clearly says, “Blood clots are a risk for women over the age over 35 and who smoke.” I wasn’t either of those. We were all appalled. He had mentioned that the surgery was off. The pain I was feeling was not gall stones, it was the lung damage that had already been done. Before leaving my room, he told me that he was going to put me on Lovenox shots twice a day along with Coumadin once a day.

That next morning I started taking the Lovenox and Coumadin. I’m not too big of a fan of the Lovenox. I hated the ugly bruises I was left with. However, it seemed like I was breathing a little bit more easily than I was before, and I was sleeping better, too. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and looking over at Ricky thinking just how good a man I have. I know he probably had better things to do, but I’m glad he chose to stay with me and be there for me. And there were also my parents. Seeing them sleep in rock hard chairs made me feel so bad. I felt like giving them my bed, and letting me have the chair. I could tell they were uncomfortable and not really sleeping the best and it bothered me.

The next day, I was finally discharged, woo-hoo! My little brother showed up to see me that day, I missed him terribly. He gave me a ton of love. All I could think about was how happy I was to get home be in my very own bed in my very own house. The nurse had come in my room with some discharge papers, and a box. “This is your Lovenox shots, which will be given once every twelve hours.” She then proceeded on teaching my boyfriend and family on how to give the shots. “It’s not too bad after you get used to giving them,” she said. “Now, I’m gonna bring in your portable oxygen tank and get you hooked up on that so we can get you out of here and ready to go home!” I was more than ready.

It was time. I was hooked up to the oxygen tank, and in a new change of my own clothes. I stood up and sat in the wheel chair. The nurse took me outside where Ricky, my Mother and little brother and I waited on my dad to pull our vehicle up. We all got in and were on our way home, finally. Ricky held my hand on the way home, while I tried to catch up on some rest. Once arriving at my house, I immediately fell asleep. Ricky woke me up and said, “Baby, I’m gonna head on home and catch up on my sleep, too. I’ll be over here to see you tomorrow, I promise.” He then kissed me and left. I fell back asleep.

I am now one month in my recovery. I am doing so much better and feeling so great! I am off of the continuous oxygen. I only use it as needed, if that. I am also off the Lovenox shots, hooray! I still take Coumadin once a day, and have my INR’s done twice a week for safe measures. I’ve lost a total of 16 pounds. Surprisingly, I feel no more pain! My oxygen level stays around 98-100. My primary doctor estimates that I will be on Coumadin for about six more months, which is awesome! I am a blood clot survivor and I am proud. Having this illness has made me think a lot. My advice to you is, cherish every moment you spend with your loved ones because you are never promised tomorrow. Also, please never ignore any weird or odd symptoms you may be feeling or having, it may cost you your life. I’m so happy I could share my story, and maybe help other girls out there my age to not feel so alone. I am blessed!


  1. Heather, I am glad to hear you are on the road to recovery. I, too, had an experience with a mis-diagnosis that turned out to be an DVT with a PE. I had gone to the hospital on a SUnday evening following a horrible weekend. I had been feeling short of breath all weekend and generally weak and tired. My husband too me to the ER and they diagnosed me with having an asthma attack from my seasonal allergies. They gave me a breathing treatment and sent me home.
    3 days later I woke up for work with a horrible pain on the inside of my right thigh. At the time, I had been training in the martial arts pretty hard, often going to the school 4/5/6 days a week. I assumed that morning that I must have pulled a muscle. I got showered and went to work. My drive in was painful and the walk up to the 3rd floor of the building even worse.
    When I got in to the lab, I dropped my stuff on my desk and went to the ladies room to check my leg as my pants felt very tight on the one leg. When I looked at the leg, it was huge and just about purple.
    I left work and drove to the ER, where I was diagnosed with a DVT. They did a lung scan and found that I had a PE as well. The PE is probably what sent me to the ER on that previous Sunday.
    It was a close call.
    I was hospitalized for 5 days and then allowed to go home. My leg was in awful shape for quite some time. Very painful for probably about a month while the clot dissolved.
    Now, every case is different, but I have had other clots since, but none as bad as the first. I knew the signs and got to the ER very early on.
    I am a lifer on blood thinners now, but I have just switched from warfarin to Xarelto. So far, so good.
    I wish you the best of luck and a speedy recovery.


  2. marge kunisch says:

    47 years ago I had pretty much the same experience. I got married and took birth control pills for about 6weeks as suggested by the gyn. I had unexplained pain and the doc in a small town took out my appendix…I still had the same pain or worse. Long story short, I was in the hospital for 8 weeks….moved to University of Michigan when I was stable enough to transport. About 8 years ago we discovered I had a AT3 problem which doesn’t help to dissolve clots. Long story short…I took a blood thinner during pregnancies and take Lovenox when I take long trips in airplanes. I feel your pain!


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