Ali Krieger, the American soccer star who helped the United States become 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions, came very close to having her athletic career — and her life — cut short 10 years ago when blood clots traveled from her legs to her lungs. She's now sharing her story to raise awareness of the warning signs of pulmonary embolisms and deep vein thrombosis, a condition that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates kills 60,000 to 100,000 Americans each year.
In 2005 I would have never guessed that I was at risk for a pulmonary embolism. I was 21 years-old, playing college soccer and just living the dream.
Thinking about that time, I realize I’m just lucky to be alive to talk about it. I’m hoping to be able to raise people’s awareness that this can happen to anyone even if you are young and healthy. Doctors at the time told me I had the “perfect storm” of events that put me at risk.
It started when my team was getting ready to compete in the NCAA’s Final Four. Two days before the tournament we were playing against the guys’ team, because you have to train at the highest level. It was late afternoon and it had just rained. And I just remember there was a bad tackle.
I was clipped from behind and my leg got caught between my opponent's legs. As we fell my leg snapped. It was a spiral fracture. They had to put in a plate and five screws. It was a devastating moment: one minute I was on cloud nine and then I was out for the season.
I still flew with the team to the Final Four in Texas. And then I flew to Florida for my mom’s wedding. At that point I was feeling short of breath and had a little pain in my chest.
But when you’re 21 you figure you’re young and healthy and you don’t think anything of it. I was also generally fatigued, but I figured I was just exhausted from all the travel and the crutching around.
At Christmas time I flew up to D.C. to see my dad. And then in January I flew back to school at Penn State. One night, as I was getting ready to go to bed I told the guy I was seeing that I wasn’t feeling well. As it turns out, I was very lucky. He was studying medicine and knew this was potentially something serious.
He told me, “You gotta get up and we have to go to the hospital.” If I had fallen asleep there was a good chance I wouldn’t have woken up, he said. That scared me silly. That and the fact that when I turned to him and asked “Am I going to live or am I going to die,” he couldn’t answer. He just said we had to go to the hospital immediately and find out what was going on.
At the hospital they said, “You are suffering from multiple blood clots in your leg and they are coming up into your lungs. You’ve had multiple mini-heart attacks.”
I was shocked. I thought, are you kidding me? I’m only 21. I’m healthy.
Even then they couldn’t say for sure how things would turn out. They told me I would be put on blood thinners and they would have to see how my body was going to react.
For six or seven months I had to go in every week to make sure everything was OK. I had to give myself shots of Coumadin in the stomach twice a day every day. I stayed at Penn State throughout the summer so I could be close to my doctors in case anything happened.
I had to be very careful while I was on the Coumadin. I couldn’t get hit or fall down or get bruised. Your blood is so thin that anything can be dangerous.
Since then I’ve learned that this really was the perfect storm. I had surgery, was hospitalized and then did a lot of flying. I know now that if you’re on a flight that is longer than an hour, you need to be active, you can’t just sit there.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. This really changed my perspective on life. I’m grateful that I got a good education and to have all the people I have around me. It showed me that life is short and you have to appreciate what you have.
-- As-told-to TODAY contributor Linda Carroll