When NBC correspondent David Bloom died at age 39 in Iraq in 2003, he left behind three children and a stunned widow.
"He had called a few days before and talked about his legs cramping up, but we didn't know then what we know now," Melanie Bloom said yesterday after coming to Baltimore to raise awareness of deep vein thrombosis.
Bloom died of a pulmonary embolism resulting from DVT while traveling with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq. Since then, his wife has become knowledgeable about the condition that killed him.
At a medical conference at the Sheraton Baltimore City Center, Melanie Bloom, 44, recalled that her husband spent the weeks before his death riding and often sleeping in Army tanks, experiencing the kind of prolonged cramped quarters that can increase the risk of developing DVT. He had been living with a unit that was about three weeks into the Iraq war when he died April 6, 2003.
She worried constantly about her husband. But he was healthy and she never thought that he would die in Iraq from an undiagnosed medical condition.
"The bitter irony is that the killer was not an insurgent's bomb or enemy fire. The bomb was deep in David's own body," she said.
DVT is caused when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, often in the leg, blocking the flow of blood. If the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, it can cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.
In half of all cases, there are no warning signs. But symptoms can include pain or discomfort in the legs, or redness or swelling of the legs.
"It's easy to dismiss the symptoms. You might think you've pulled a muscle or the pain is from a fall," she said.
DVT can be diagnosed with an ultrasound and treated with blood-thinning medications, said Dr. Craig Kessler, an oncologist and hematologist at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington.
Risk factors include being on extended bed rest, swelling or pain in the legs, advanced age, obesity or, for women, taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. Other factors are having cancer, stroke, diabetes or congestive heart failure or a family history that includes premature myocardial infarction or premature stroke.
On long airline flights, those at risk should drink water, occasionally move around and consider wearing compression stockings, Kessler said.
Pathologists conducting autopsies on patients thought to have died of myocardial infarction often find deaths caused by pulmonary embolisms brought on by DVT, Kessler said.
"It goes undiagnosed in most patients," he said.
Even when the patient survives DVT, the clots sometimes discolor the legs and cause a loss of mobility years later because of damage to the interior lining of the blood vessels, Kessler said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, former Vice President Dan Quayle and network sportscaster Bonnie Bernstein have all had DVT, he said, and while it affects up to 2 million people a year, there seems to be little public awareness.
"It's always been difficult for me to understand why there hasn't been more exposure to this condition," Kessler said.
Melanie Bloom spent about 18 months after her husband's death in mourning before she joined the Coalition to Prevent DVT. She has served about three years as a national spokesperson for the coalition.
"David's life could have been saved with knowledge, with awareness," she said.
She still misses her husband intensely but finds comfort that his death might help increase knowledge of a condition that causes pulmonary embolisms, which kill up to 300,000 people a year.
"I've grown to be aware of how powerful knowledge and information can be," she told about 300 members of the Society for Vascular Nursing.
As she spoke, a screen showed images of the couple with their children: twins Christine and Nicole, now 13, and Ava, now 7. The twins recently earned A's on a school science project that gave an overview of the causes and dangers of DVT.
"It's something that impacted their lives so drastically, and they used it and were able to share their story," their mother said in an interview.
A risk assessment test available on the coalition's Web site is an effective tool, Kessler said. To take the test or for more information, go to www.preventdvt. org.