Tara Lipinski has spent almost every day of her life ice-skating. At the age of 15, she became the youngest person ever to win a Gold Medal during a Winter Olympics. This was due, in part, to her signature move—a stunning but physically demanding triple loop/jump combination. However, by age 18, Lipinski was facing hip surgery, an event that would lead her to an awareness of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous potential side effect of surgery. Ten years later, she is still on a mission to educate people about the realities of this condition—especially young people.
Tell us when you first became aware of your risk of DVT.
My hip had been hurting for a while. It had been misdiagnosed for about four or five years. Eventually, at the age of 18, I found out I had a torn labrum in my hip. It created a lot of joint pain and problems. So, I worked with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Marc Philippon, who was a pioneer in arthroscopic surgery. Dr. Philippon basically saved my career. The surgery really changed my life. And that’s when I found out about DVT.
Were you surprised that DVT could be a complication of surgery for you?
I never thought that DVT was something I’d have to worry about at that age; it wasn’t on my radar. I thought “that’s for older people or that’s for people who don’t exercise or who are sick and bedridden.” I just never thought that a teenager—especially someone who was so active—would be at risk for something
You became passionate about educating others on the topic. Why did it resonate so much with you?
Here I am, an elite athlete; if there’s a chance I can get it, anyone can. I just started thinking that if I never realized it was an issue, then my athlete friends probably didn’t think it was an issue either. But it could be. It could happen to them. It could happen to someone my parents’ age. It could happen to anyone.
Do you think young people and athletes are unaware they could be at risk?
That’s one of the main points of my campaign. I don’t feel that most people do know about this risk—especially young, active people.
Tell us what you’ve been up to.
Skating has always been the love of my life. Last year, I got into commentating. I worked with Universal and NBC in all of the skating competitions. I’ve become so passionate about it—just being back in the sport and watching these girls compete. I can definitely see myself doing this for a long time.
What’s your main message for others when it comes to the risk of DVT?
My message is that there isn’t much of an awareness of this, and there should be. I’m very close with my family, so when I learned about this risk factor, I realized that my mom or dad could have had surgery, and I wouldn’t have known before to even ask about the risk of DVT. I just want people to know about this when they go into surgery—and after—and that DVT can happen to the young and healthy, with or without surgery, as well.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh.
- A blood clot in a deep vein can break off, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block blood flow. This condition is called pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is a very serious condition that can cause death.
- Only about half of the people who have DVT have signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms occur in the leg affected by the deep vein clot. They include swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, increased warmth in the area of the leg that’s swollen or in pain, and red or discolored skin on the leg.
- DVT is not just a condition of the elderly. It can strike anyone in any physical condition and at any age.
- DVT is treated with medicines that thin the blood, interfere with the blood clotting process, and dissolve blood clots. Other treatments include filters to catch blood clots.
To Find Out More
- MedlinePlus: Deep Vein Thrombosis www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/deepveinthrombosis.html
- MedlinePlus: Pulmonary Embolism www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/pulmonaryembolism.html
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What Is Deep Vein Thrombosis?” www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Dvt/DVT_WhatIs.html