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Kikkan Randall on the mend after 2nd hospital stay


Right now, the woman who blazed down a trail in Russia last season to set a new standard in American cross-country ski racing can’t walk without a limp.
     Ironically enough, Kikkan Randall — who prides herself on putting her body through some of the most strenuous workouts imaginable — doesn’t walk for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time at her Alaska home.
    “This is the most extreme rest I think I’ve ever taken in my life,” Randall said in a phone interview Tuesday, two days after being discharged from the Providence Alaska Medical Center, where she spent six days being treated for a massive blood clot in her leg. “This has been such a surreal experience, having gone from being on top of the world, not having a care at all, to having something that can potentially be life threatening at any minute."
RIGHT NOW, the woman who blazed down a trail in Russia last season to set a new standard in American cross-country ski racing can’t walk without a limp.
    Ironically enough, Kikkan Randall — who prides herself on putting her body through some of the most strenuous workouts imaginable — doesn’t walk for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time at her Alaska home.
    “This is the most extreme rest I think I’ve ever taken in my life,” Randall said in a phone interview Tuesday, two days after being discharged from the Providence Alaska Medical Center, where she spent six days being treated for a massive blood clot in her leg. “This has been such a surreal experience, having gone from being on top of the world, not having a care at all, to having something that can potentially be life threatening at any minute."
    It’s been a up-and-down past six weeks for the 25-year-old Randall, who last December won a sprint race in Russia to become the first American women’s cross-country racer to win a World Cup event. She began feeling a faint pain in her abdomen in early February, but it worsened considerably by late March and spread to her back. Doctors then discovered a blood clot extending from Randall’s left hip down past her knee. She had surgery to remove the clot on April 3 but was re-admitted to the hospital on April 15 because another clot had formed in the same vein.
    “It was a big blow to have to go back to the hospital last week and go through recovery all over again,” Randall said. “It’s hard that with every little ache and pain, [I think] what’s it mean? I think [the doctors] are going to be a little more vigilant this time around and keep and eye on things and hopefully the clot won’t re-form.”
    To break up the second clot, doctors inserted a catheter into Randall’s leg and sprayed clot-busting drugs into the vein. She then spent two days on an IV drip of a blood thinning drug until doctors were satisfied that the clot was gone and her vein had widened to the point where blood was flowing regularly. Discharged from the hospital on Sunday night, Randall said she was “happy to be up on my own two feet” again when she had another setback.
    “I was on my way to the elevator and all of a sudden my pants felt really wet so I looked down at my calf and my pants were soaked in blood,” Randall said. “Where the catheter had been it had totally opened up and my blood is so thin right now that it was just pumping out.”
    The hole was stitched up and Randall nearly had to spend one more night in the hospital before being cleared and sent home. The hole has remained sealed since with no spontaneous bleeding.
    “It almost feels like there’s a giant knot behind me knee, which makes me walk a little funny,” she said. “Hopefully that will heal up in the next week or so. I got the clearance to do some upper-body weight training this week. Next week if the catheter site is healed I can do some non load-bearing activity, maybe some swimming, some stationary biking, stuff like that.”
    Randall will miss a U.S. team camp that begins May 1 near Whistler while she recovers, a process with no real end point. She hopes to be on blood-thinning medication for no longer than six months. In six to eight weeks, doctors will examine the vein to make sure it’s remained open and another clot hasn’t formed. If the vein has narrowed, a stint may have to be placed in the vein to keep it open, or Randall may have to undergo bypass surgery. “We’re crossing our fingers that the vein will stay open by itself and we don’t have to go that direction but it’s a possibility,” she said.
    A combination of genetic, medical and external factors apparently all contributed to Randall’s sudden clotting episode. The genetic factor is Factor V Leiden, a condition Randall has that predisposes an individual to potentially dangerous blood clots. The medical factor is Randall’s May-Thurner syndrome, which is a narrowing of the vein going into the legs. She only recently found out she had this condition. The external factors are a Nuva Ring birth control device Randall began using in November that has been shown to increase the risk of serious blood clots 35 times in women with Factor V Leiden. Add in the long airplane trips Randall endures as a World Cup athlete — and the extended periods of sitting and inactivity on those trips that have been shown to contribute to potential clotting — and Randall’s doctors called it a “perfect storm” of risk factors that caught up to her all at once.
    Randall immediately stopped using the Nuva Ring and learned that a class action lawsuit against the makers of the device is being considered.  
    “I’m hoping that some female athletes out there will say, ‘I’m on birth control and maybe I should get screened for these hereditary factors and I should consider [another form of birth control],” Randall said. “If I can save anyone else from having to go through this, I want to do that.”
    Randall said she’s been overwhelmed at the response her ordeal has elicited from fellow athletes, coaches, friends and people she doesn’t even know. Many people have shared similar stories of battling blood clots and their positive outcomes.  
    “I have to say I was taken aback in December when I won the World Cup with how many people called and e-mailed to congratulate me, but I want to say this time around the response has been even more incredible,” she said. “It’s definitely been easier to get through this because of that.”

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