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Jenny Fletcher’s Health Setback

  • By Courtney Johnson
  • Published Jul 19, 2013
  • Updated Jul 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM UTC

Professional triathlete Jenny Fletcher is working her way back to triathlon after a dramatic health incident earlier this year.

Endurance athletes are used to the aches and pains that go along with the hours dedicated to training and racing. But for pro triathlete Jenny Fletcher she began to question what was going on after continuous weeks of feeling “off.” ‘Am I training too hard? Is my stress level too high,’ she began to wonder. She kept her symptoms, ranging from a tight chest and breathing problems to fatigue and sluggishness, to herself and it wasn’t until she tasted blood in her mouth during a morning swim workout that she knew this was beyond the realm of overtraining.

But with upcoming races, including 70.3 St. Croix, in the front of her mind, she jumped on her trainer after curling up on her couch for a few hours with a massive headache. The following day, she coughed up blood as she headed out to the track. The “stubborn as a mule” athlete in her shuffled around the track and even got in a swim session before resolving to the fact that this was a problem she could no longer ignore and hope would go away.

A trip to the respiratory doctor and chest X-rays didn’t show any immediate cause for concern, but as the doctor dug deeper after she left he requested she go in for a scan. Fletcher, who at that time was headed to her coach’s for dinner, turned around and headed back to the doctor’s office. Within minutes of receiving her scan results, she was headed to the emergency room—her lungs were filled with blood clots and one pulmonary artery had almost clotted shut. As she puts it, “I was near death walking.” The cause of the clots was not overtraining; it was NuvaRing, a form of birth control.

Fletcher stayed in the hospital emergency room overnight on blood thinners and was released the next day. The plan right now is for her to be on blood thinners for six months, but she is hoping to find a more natural alternative. “Asking questions is a part of my character. I don’t like being on drugs and have been trying to challenge my doctor to find different ways of treatment.”

It has been hard for Fletcher, as she likes to know more about what is going on and what the best treatment options are for her. “My doc is pretty hands off. Often he just asks how I am feeling. When I say OK, he says good and that is about it.” In fact, she is a bit angry at herself for not knowing more about the side effects of birth control, including the risk of blood clots. “I don’t remember being told about the risk of blood clots,” recalls Fletcher. “I think for me if I did hear, that it might not have totally registered. I mean, I am a healthy athlete. Why would I get blood clots? This is just proof of the importance of doing your own research.”

In fact, when she was released from the hospital she found out that someone else she knew had gone through the same ordeal. “After I was in the hospital, I learned about a friend that also had blood clots in her legs for the same reason, and all the lawsuits against the makers of NuvaRing.”

Now, she is focusing on finding the right time to come back. Without knowing if there will be any long-term effects, when that time will be is still up in the air. Doctors said a minimum of six months with no racing. For someone so disciplined to get every workout in, it has been a hard transition to taking so much time off. Currently, she is back in the pool adding yardage slowly. When she bikes, she is never alone. “Crashing your bike while on blood thinners can have deadly consequences,” she explains. Running has been the hardest of the three disciplines to get back into. “I am just focusing on easy runs right now and trying to use the pool and my bike trainer to help me maintain some fitness.”

As difficult is it is seeing her friends racing, she is trying to take the opportunity to balance her life with the right perspective. “Yes it is important to pursue your dreams, but what good is success when you have no one to share in the celebration with. For much time I have been running with my head down—missing out on life and maintaining my relationships with family and friends. This setback has helped me find that balance again and to not loose sight of what is most important.”

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