Friday, September 5, 2008

Triumphs, losses and pulmonary embolism

Basketball has treated Peter Witts well. A high school basketball coach and school teacher for three years, Witts has experienced the triumphs, humble losses and irreplaceable moments that color the sport. But basketball has also been the scene where Witts discovered a life-changing cardiovascular condition.

In 2001 Witts began to experience shortness of breath and a sudden sickness while he was coaching a basketball game.

“I felt like I had the flu or sick or something,” says Witts.

For a whole week, he coughed furiously, felt tired and generally run down, but the defining symptom was his unusual shortness of breath. So he decided to visit a local walk-in clinic to figure out his situation.

From there, walk-in clinic staff immediately knew something was wrong. They sent Witts to a local hospital for an echocardiogram, a diagnostic procedure that creates a clear image of the heart by using high frequency sound waves. Upon discovering severe clots in his heart and lungs, Witts was rushed by clinic staff to the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.

Medically defined as an appending pulmonary embolism, Witts had experienced a blood clot that developed in a blood vessel elsewhere in the body (most likely the leg), traveled to an artery in the lung, and formed an occlusion (blockage) of the artery.

“They rushed me right into the emergency room and right into surgery,” explains Witts.

In the operating room, Thomas E. MacGillivray, MD, cardiac surgeon at the Heart Center quickly removed the several clots in Witts’ heart and lungs. Without this urgent surgery, Witts had only a three percent survival rate, and the risk of stroke hanging over his head.

“It could have killed me,” admits Witts.

Throughout the procedure his two brothers and two sisters were there for emotional and familial support. Dr. MacGillivray was also there, every step of the way.

“They were very good here. Whenever I was in there, Dr. MacGillivrary was always around. I didn’t even know if he went home,” laughs Witts.

After leaving Mass General, Witts took a month off from teaching and coaching and embarked on the road to recovery. Prior to the pulmonary embolism, Witts was never one to visit the doctor. Now he stresses the importance of checking in with qualified physicians and scheduling yearly physicals.

Today Witts is still enjoying the triumphs and irreplaceable moments that make up basketball. Recently, he even had the opportunity to take a photo with the recent Boston Celtics’ NBA Championship winning trophy. Now how’s that for a win?

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