Lying helpless in a cardiac intensive care unit with a one-month-old child at home, it is hard to comprehend the thoughts that must have been racing through the mind of former Olympic runner Kim Smith.
With a catheter fitted through her neck to destroy the potentially fatal large blood clots that had formed on her lungs, the multiple New Zealand record holder, who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 10,000m and the London 2012 Games in the marathon, was facing the biggest fight of her life.
“It was awful,” says US-based Kim (34) of the incident that occurred last July. “I had a very young baby, so I definitely didn’t want to be away from her in hospital. Looking back, it was all a bit of a blur and very scary.”
“Six pounds, two ounces of cuteness [2.8kg],” she tweeted. The couple were thrilled and her parents – Jeanette and Alan – flew over from New Zealand to stay with Kim at her home in Providence, Rhode Island.
Looking forward to treasuring every moment of her first child’s life, her expectations were given a huge jolt when she found it too hard to walk. “I kept getting chest pain and I had trouble breathing,” she explains.
“I started to feel sick, I had a fever and kept getting chills. I thought I had an infection. I was put on antibiotics, but the cough I had kept getting worse.”
It was then her thoughts turned to when she last suffered a similar alarming experience, back in 2006. Shortly after undergoing Achilles surgery, she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Remembering this, she called her doctor and was referred to the ER, where it was found she had possibly fatal blood clots in her lungs. Kim was transferred to a Boston hospital for emergency treatment.
Her time in hospital was “terrifying” and being away from her newborn child was heartbreaking. Yet despite agonising back pain, the brave mum continued to breastfeed each day, every three hours, with her husband transporting the milk back home to their baby – a one-hour drive away.
“Pat would try to bring her up every day, but it was tough because you don’t really want a one-month-old travelling so far, then visiting a hospital,” explains Kim.
After six days in hospital, the blood clots were destroyed and her nightmare ordeal was over. Kim could return home and the new mum could once more give Violet a cuddle.
“I was so happy to be home, but I was in a lot of pain,” she says. “I was lucky my mum, dad and husband were there to take care of things for me. It’s been a hard road for Pat – he has been such a good support. Hopefully, our problems are behind us now.”
It is a mystery as to why she has suffered two potentially fatal bouts of blood clotting. Tests revealed no genetic factors were at play, however, high oestrogen can be a contributing factor. Before the first incident, she was taking an oral contraceptive and, on the second occasion, she was pregnant, so these could have been a factor.
Now taking blood thinning drugs to manage the problem, the new mum has returned to training and racing.
“I’m lucky Violet has been a very good baby and easy to deal with. When I go for a run, I can drop her off at the babysitter.
“And to think, I wasn’t even sure I was going to run again a few months ago!”