"I woke up and couldn't feel my left leg" 

Helen Cannings developed venous thromboembolism (VTE) at around 30 weeks of pregnancy. Her father also died of pulmonary embolism at the age of just 49.

"My dad died suddenly 10 years ago from a pulmonary embolism (PE). He was only 49 and it was a real shock for my whole family. Before he died, I didn't know much about VTE, apart from that you could get DVT from flying and should try to move your legs around on long flights.

"After dad died I had to have tests to check that I didn't have any genetic conditions that make your blood clot. I was given the all-clear, so didn't think I was at risk.

"I was about 29 weeks into my pregnancy when I woke up one morning and couldn't feel my left leg. It felt numb and dull. I thought it was cramp, so I got up and walked around, but it was hard to walk and the pain seemed to get worse. When I looked at my leg it was really swollen and an ashen grey colour.

"My partner, Tony, persuaded me to go to hospital to get it checked out. Luckily, it was a quiet Saturday morning, so I was admitted to the labour ward straight away.

"As the morning went on I could feel the pain in my leg getting worse. The doctor measured the size of my leg, felt the temperature, looked at the appearance of the skin and asked me a lot of questions about how I was feeling and my family history. It was confirmed that I had DVT, and I had to have an ultrasound scan to show the extent of the clot. It was just above the back of my knee and a few centimetres long.

"I was shocked and scared after my diagnosis. Because Dad had died from a pulmonary embolism, I was worried that the clot could move up to my lung. The whole thing brought a lot of emotions flooding back. Thankfully, I was reassured that my baby was ok. I was just worried about what could happen to me.

"I was put straight on to an anticoagulant medication. I couldn't take warfarin tablets because I was pregnant, so I had to have heparin. Heparin has to be taken as an injection, so I learned to do this myself before I left the hospital. I had to inject myself twice a day in the thigh. It was hard at first, but I soon got used to it. Taking the medication made me feel safer because I knew it would stop my blood clotting.

"Looking back, it was a stressful time. I was heavily pregnant and really worried about my health. I was told to rest and elevate my leg, but the pain didn't go away for about a month. I couldn't drive and could only really walk short distances, otherwise my leg would swell up. I was worried I'd never be able to move my leg normally again and worried about giving birth.

"My consultant and the team at the hospital took a while to decide how they were going to manage my labour. They decided I should have a natural birth, but would need to come off the heparin 12 hours before so I didn't lose too much blood. In the end, everything went well and my son Joseph was born healthy and happy.

"After giving birth, I was only discharged from hospital after a visit to the anticoagulant clinic to check how fast my blood was clotting. They found I was still at risk, so I was put on warfarin.

"I had to take the warfarin tablets for six months before having another review. I also had to wear compression stockings every day for two years. I've been told that if I ever have any chest pains, I should go straight to hospital because I'm at risk of pulmonary embolism.

"Although I knew there was a higher risk of blood clots in pregnancy, I didn't think I was high risk. I'm much more aware now and I think the fear of having another clot, and it being more serious, will always be at the back of my mind."

Page last reviewed: 27/04/2016

Next review due: 27/04/2018