21-year-old Detroit woman suffers life-threatening blood clot, wants others to recognize symptoms

Doctor says new device key to recovery

DETROIT – When Delaney Tepel started having leg pain, she assumed she had pulled a muscle moving furniture. But something far more serious was wrong.

"I got up from my desk and my hearing kind of went out, my vision was weird, and I knew something was wrong, like I just didn't feel right," Tepel said.

Tepel's mother Joelle Slaughter and a friend rushed her to Ascension St. John Hospital.

"Sitting in the waiting room, praying, I knew that they would take care of her. I just didn't know how bad it was," Slaughter said.

Doctors quickly determined Tepel had a massive blood clot in her leg. Pieces had broken off and traveled to her lungs.

"We made the diagnosis of her having pulmonary embolism. At that time, the right side of her heart was under a lot of stress, and it was actually failing," said Dr. Antonious Attallah, an interventional cardiologist at Ascension St. John Hospital.

Related: Blood clots: Symptoms, causes, prevention, when to see a doctor

"I'm, like, 'I'm 21 years old, I have a blood clot, that doesn't make sense. Like, older people have blood clots. I shouldn't be having a blood clot,'" Tepel said. "He said that if I hadn't gotten (to) the hospital, at least a half hour later, I would have died."

Doctors were able to remove the clots in her lungs, but Tepel's leg was more challenging.

Attallah turned to a device called the ClotTriever, approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.

"After we've located the position of the clot, we actually go and snare it almost in a very similar fashion like a plumber would snare a blockage of some sort in a pipe," Attallah said.

It worked for Tepel.

"I'm just grateful to be alive and for Dr. Attallah and that tool.  That tool saved my life, so I'm very grateful," Tepel said.

Further testing revealed Tepel was unknowingly at high risk for blood clots. She has a condition called May-Thurner syndrome. A critical vein and artery are crossed, meaning blood couldn't flow as freely as it should.

Tepel had also recently taken a trip to Hawaii. Long flights are a risk factor.

There's a family history of clots.

"My mother and my older brother both have DVTs, and now in hindsight, putting it all together, it makes sense," Slaughter said. "We're going to work with our hematologist to do further testing to make sure that if there is something genetic that all of our family is aware about it and and they know how to take care of it too."

Signs of a blood clot in the leg can include swelling, pain or tenderness and an area that's warm to the touch.   

If the clot breaks up and travels to the lungs, it can cause sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heart rate, and a cough. That's a medical emergency and you should prompt a call to 911 right away.

Delaney needed a stent in her leg to reduce the risk of another blockage. Now recovered, she wants other young people to know -- blood clots can happen to anyone.

"I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but it's, like, a half an hour isn't a lot of time. I could have been stuck in traffic for a half an hour and it could have been the difference between me being here right now," Tepel said.

To learn more about your risk of blood clots, click here.

Here's some info from Mayo Clinic:

When to see a doctor:

Seek emergency care if you experience:

  • Cough that produces bloody sputum
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficult or painful breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Pain extending to your shoulder, arm, back or jaw
  • Sudden weakness or numbness of your face, arm or leg
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech (aphasia)
  • Sudden changes in your vision

Consult your doctor if you develop these signs or symptoms in an area on an arm or leg:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain

Self-care measures

To reduce your risk of developing blood clots, try these tips:

  • Avoid sitting for long periods. If you travel by airplane, walk the aisle periodically. For long car trips, stop and walk around frequently.
  • Move. After you've had surgery or been on bed rest, the sooner you get up and move around, the better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids when traveling. Dehydration can contribute to the development of blood clots.
  • Change your lifestyle. Lose weight, lower high blood pressure, stop smoking and exercise regularly.


About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.