A new medical “Call to Action” was unveiled on TODAY Monday by the U.S. Surgeon General to shine a spotlight on deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, often undiagnosed and misunderstood killers responsible for some 100,000 deaths in America each year.
Acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson and Melanie Bloom — the widow of David Bloom, an NBC correspondent who died from DVT while covering the war in Iraq — announced the new initiative to TODAY’s Ann Curry via satellite from Washington, D.C. The Call to Action aims to increase awareness of DVT/PE, suggest avenues of treatment and rally for more research into the causes and prevention.
For Bloom, shining a spotlight on DVT/PE has become a personal crusade in the face of personal tragedy. Her husband David, a 10-year veteran of NBC news and co-anchor on Weekend TODAY, was embedded on a U.S. Army tank in Iraq in April 2003. He called home to Melanie and complained of leg cramps. Two days later, he died of what was later diagnosed as DVT/PE, leaving Melanie devastated as she contemplated a future as a widow raising three young daughters without their father.
“Five years ago, I had never heard of DVT, didn’t know what it was,” Bloom told Curry. “It took my husband’s life and the father of our girls. To come full circle five years later and be sitting here with the Surgeon General as a Call to Action is made is very gratifying.”
According to Dr. Galson, DVT/PE affects up to 600,000 Americans each year — and those numbers are expected to climb with the graying of the U.S. populace. A DVT typically begins as a blood clot, usually in the leg. If the blood clot breaks, it can travel to the lung and turn into an often-fatal pulmonary embolism.
The immobile are most often at risk. That includes the bedridden or passengers traveling on long plane flights, as well as those suffering from a broken leg. Other at-risk groups include those taking hormones, those with a family history of blood clots, cancer patients, smokers and the obese.
Bloom herself learned after her husband’s death that David carried multiple risk factors that led to his DVT/PE. “They say if you have three or more of these risk factors, that given time, you could be at risk for perhaps a fatal DVT/PE,” she told Curry.
“In my husband’s case, he had four risk factors — the long-haul flights, restricted mobility in the tank night after night, dehydration, which caused the blood to be more sluggish, then after the fact an autopsy did reveal a genetic predisposition to clotting.”
Simple treatments include wearing loose clothing that doesn’t restrict blood flow, and for those on long flights, moving at intervals during the flight. Those diagnosed with DVT/PE can receive a blood thinner from their doctor. Raising one’s legs six inches above the heart is also a preventive measure. Dr. Galson notes that most cases of DVT can be prevented.
Dr. Galson told Curry that people trying to detect a possible case of DVT/PE should look for symptoms such as new swelling in a leg or arm, skin redness, soreness and pain, a warm spot on the leg and chest pain.
“If you are on a long-haul airplane flight and you start feeling pain in your leg or swelling, you should immediately seek medical attention,” he said. “First, it’s the genetic risk factor, so if this happened to someone in your family before, you should be aware that you can be at an increased risk as well.”
Bloom has been active and ardent in raising awareness of DVT/PE since her husband’s death. She became the spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis and is being honored by the Vascular Disease Foundation for her work.
Curry beamed as she talked with Bloom about happy developments in Bloom’s life — in January, she remarried, and her new husband Dan McNulty brings his two children into a household that includes David and Melanie’s twin teen daughters Christine and Nicole and 8-year-old daughter Ava. While it has helped Melanie in her healing process, she stays ever mindful of trying to help others avoid her personal family tragedy.
“Life does go on, and there is hope,” Bloom told Curry. “That’s the message with DVT awareness, that people can live and it is treatable, it is preventable. And I just hope it resonates.”
Galson said Monday’s Call to Action announcement comes as a result of years working on and documenting DVT/PE, its causes and treatments. Previous Call to Action campaigns from the Surgeon General include secondhand smoke, obesity and underage drinking.
For more information on deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, visit The Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis at preventdvt.org.