Leigh Lingenfelser's Story

By Leigh Lingenfelser

In 2003, I twisted my ankle. I've twisted and broken my ankles numerous times throughout the years but this was different. The pain was excruciating. I couldn't walk or drive, my calf swelled to the size of a watermelon with a 1000 bees stinging the back of my calf. I could feel the heat radiating off my calf thru my jeans and nothing, not even my jeans could touch my calf. Three days later, it was gone as if nothing had happened.

A month later, I hadn't been feeling good, wanting to sleep a lot and not eating. I took my two sons camping and fishing for the weekend and in the middle of the night had a heart attack. The pain was unbearable hitting my chest and very quickly into my left shoulder. I wanted to cut my arm off at the shoulder to relieve the pain and then like my ankle, it was gone. The next day, I felt exhausted, felt like I had been run over by my own semi and the only pain I had was a dull ache in my back between my shoulder blades.

Two weeks later I was struggling for air. I was short of breath and feeling like I had a ton of bricks on my chest. I had struggled with pneumonia numerous times throughout my teenage years so I assumed I had pneumonia. Over the weekend, I couldn't lay down due to pressure in my chest and spent the weekend sleeping in a chair. On Monday, I went to the doctor and not knowing twisting my ankle 1 1/2 months prior was where this all orginated from. I discussed how I felt and my symptoms over the past week. X-rays at the hospital showed pneumonia in my right lung and I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Two days later, I began collapsing due to shortness of breath. I phoned the doctor and was informed I had a low oxygen count and needed to go to the ER for an oxygen treatment. I collapsed four times trying to get from the parking lot into the ER while doctors and nurses sat there on a smoke break watching. An elderly gentleman with a walker was the only person to stop and offer to help me. X-rays showed something different then days earlier so tests were performed. I was diagnosed with a pulmonary emboli, blood closts in my right lung.

I endured questions and tests thru out the night and following morning. In the afternoon, a pulmonologist informed me the blood clot reached baseball size and I'd have surgeons coming in the next day to discuss the different procedures of removing the clot. He told me I needed to think seriously as to which procedure I choose as to my future outcome. I remember thinking "wonder what that means." I stopped breathing three times during the evening and overnight.

At 6 a.m. an echocardiogram was performed and fifteen minutes later I was meeting my surgeon, my open heart surgeon. I had a saddleback pulmonary emboli that blocked both lungs and a small piece had already begun to penetrate my heart. Thanks to the wonderful drugs hospitals offer, all I could say was "wow, that's gonna leave a scar." The surgeon informed me the procedure had never been done before but because of having a clean liver, a strong heart, and my age, I was a good candidate. I was 37. I spent the afternoon and evening hours enduring the painstaking preparations for surgery, the bags of fluids and blood transfusions, the poking and prodding by anyone who walked by my door, visits and explanations from people involved in the surgery speaking in non layman tongue to me.

At 2 a.m., a nurse came in and informed me my potassium level plummeted and I needed three bags of potassium or I wouldn't survive the surgery. I came crashing down. I hadn't seen my sons since leaving for the ER and I wasn't going to have the opportunity to say goodbye, to see them graduate, become men, or start their own families. As tears poured down, I wrote each a letter saying goodbye, how proud I was of them and how fortunate I was having them. At 6 a.m., I was wheeled into surgery with having only 1 1/2 bags of potassium, by myself, and scared to death.

I survived spending days drugged and down in ICU to being dismissed without knowledge or understanding what my blood thinning medicine was. I endured severe depression without knowing where or how to get help. Four months later, I moved to Missouri and was back driving semis. I was told by my surgeon I only needed blood thinners for six months and then I could stop. I was told this would never happen again and that once the surgery was done, there'd be no additional problems; I'd be fine.

Since then, I have been life-flighted, put thru numerous EKG's, echocardiograms and stress tests and placed back on blood thinners. I endured three different attacks to the chest. One attack is quick but hurts and goes from middle of chest to left armpit. The second attack hurts more and not so quick. It sits in my chest making it hard to breath and exits out my back between my shoulder blades leaving dull aches between my shoulder blades. The third is very painful hitting my chest leaving me wanting to reach in and cut my heart out then goes to the left shoulder and I'm wanting to cut my arm off. I now take blood thinners for life and carry nitroglycerin which only works on my third type of attacks preventing me from passing out. I've endured one angiogram since 2003 and will most likely face more and my insurance companies stopped paying bills in 2006. I hand over $500 cash a year just to see my cardiologist for two minutes and another $500 cash just to see my pulmonologist for two minutes.

After my twin sister broke loose a blood clot in 2008, I have learned that we carry the Factor V gene and have passed this on to our children.