Kamela James Inspirational Award
In May of 2010, I participated in a sprint triathlon in Tempe, Arizona. I’ve always been active relatively speaking but I had not been involved in any type of organized sport since I was a child. In the last three weeks before the race I started to feel ill, and I was having trouble breathing during training. I did the race and flew home but still did not feel much better. Two weeks later I got up for work and my left leg was dark purple. Later that evening I was hospitalized with a ten inch clot in my abdomen. Through a series of unfortunate events I was accidentally discharged the next morning. I was happy at the time, I was never sick and I didn’t want to be in the hospital. But 3 days later my leg was essentially black and I was dragging it. I called my doctor who saw me the following morning. As soon as I arrived he was explaining that he had been in contact with the hospital, that they were expecting me immediately and that I was having surgery. I was arguing with him, there was no way I was going back. He said “You may not make it to the hospital. I’ve already called your family.” I left for the hospital and was still in denial. But when I got to the hospital and I could see how frantic my surgeon was it changed. I will never forget the nurse popping her head in and telling my surgeon there were 3 people in front of me. He said “She goes now, she may not make it.” And it finally set in. I was in the OR within ten minutes of arriving and the surgeon had me say goodbye to my then husband. He told me if I was not going to make it, my family would be able to come in and say goodbye, they had yet to arrive.
That day forever changed my life. I have an extremely rare condition called May-Thurner Syndrome. That day they removed the clot and place a stent in my iliac vein. A stent I need to live. It sits directly on my spine and is compressed by my artery. It was my surgeon’s first one. Unfortunately, I had severe complications with the stent. I was hospitalized at the Mayo clinic for a month in October of 2010 and two months in March and April of 2011. Fortunately they were eventually able to remedy the issues I was having. When I left the Mayo Clinic I was 89 pounds. I am 5’8″. I was on 8 different medications. I had and will always have severe post thrombotic syndrome in both legs but much worse in the left. They said I would always need to be in compression socks, my vascular system is so compromised. They said my left leg, which had atrophied to less than half the size of my right, would never recover. They said I would always have a severe limp. I was sent home and placed in an aggressive physical therapy program.
This was unbelievable to me. I started researching ways to rebuild muscle. I learned that as you build muscle your vascularity improves and your body will actually develop collateral veins. After several months of physical therapy, I decided to leave and just start going to the gym. It was so hard, everyone stared at me. People made comments directly to me about how underweight I was. And I didn’t feel good when I went, I was still very sick. But I ever so slowly started to improve. As I built muscle my pain became less because my blood was flowing a little better. I found that if I manually got my blood pumping a good two hours a day, I had much less swelling in my legs. I don’t have time for that, but I make the time regardless because it’s how I make it each day now. It’s the difference for me of functioning normally with manageable pain, and barely functioning on numerous medications.
During my journey, I learned this whole fitness world existed. I thought if I have to be in the gym every day, I might as well do something fun with it. In July of 2013 I hired a coach. He told me I would need a year of training. I committed to that and a year and four months later I competed in my first show. I now I’m about to do my fourth.
I no longer take any medication at all. My left leg is almost the same size as my right now. It’s probably only noticeable to me, and maybe on stage. I rarely need to wear compression socks and my pain is extremely manageable as long as I get into the gym for at least two hours each day. I can take a day off each week and I do OK. But not more than that. I don’t always love being there but I always go. I don’t love spending most of my Sunday cooking all of my meals for the week but I do it. Because I want to keep moving forward. I decided to share my story in the hopes that even just one person is inspired and keeps moving forward as well. Fitness literally saved my life. Thank you for letting me share.
Read the various inspirational fitness stories and vote for your favorite through the form below.