Former Baseball Greats Discuss Deep Vein Thrombosis

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Former Baltimore Oriole and New York Yankee Paul Blair recounts his son's battle with deep vein thrombosis.

Former Baltimore Oriole and New York Yankee Paul Blair (right) recounts his son's battle with deep vein thrombosis.

Former Baltimore Oriole and New York Yankee Paul Blair's nickname was "motormouth" because he loved to talk both on and off the baseball field. But for 12 years he has been publicly silent about the disease that took his son's life.

At a community outreach seminar on July 3 in Uris Auditorium, Blair broke his silence by talking about his son's death and the condition that led to it: deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a disorder that is largely preventable, yet hospitalizes up to 600,000 people each year, according to the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis.

DVT occurs when blood clots develop along the wall of a deep vein—those that accompany an artery—most often in the leg and thigh. These clots not only restrict blood flow, but also have the potential to break free and become lodged in other arteries, blocking blood flow to vital organs like the brain or lungs. The resulting lack of oxygenated blood can cause severe organ damage or, if left untreated, even death.

At 29, Terry Blair was young and healthy; like his father, he was a skilled athlete who played sports regularly. At one point he injured his leg during a game, which led to constant re-injuring as he continued to participate in sports. Traumatic injuries often begin the clotting process of DVT, resulting in a narrowing of the artery, reduced blood flow and increased pooling within the artery. While in the hospital to treat one of his leg injuries, a blood clot broke free from the arterial wall in his leg and traveled to his heart, killing Terry instantly.

"Terry never spent a day in the hospital until that day, and he never came out," his father said.

"You never, ever know what will happen, so take this very seriously," he warned. "It's been 12 years and now I can finally talk about it. It took me this long to get here, so please don't let it happen to you."

Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro shares his story of how DVT killed his father.

Phil Niekro, a former Atlanta Braves pitcher and current Hall of Fame inductee, spoke about the loss of his father due to complications from DVT. A former coal miner, Niekro's father was hospitalized for a leg surgery. A clot formed in his leg following the surgery, requiring partial amputation. Ultimately, a cycle was created: each successive amputation to remove a blood clot required weeks of bed rest, and over the course of those weeks another blood clot would form, requiring further surgery. After one of these surgeries, a blood clot moved into a pulmonary artery, blocking blood flow to his lungs and killing him.

Niekro stressed the importance of getting screened for DVT, saying, "Outside we can see problems and we know what's happening to us, but we do not see what is down there inside of our legs."

Dr. John Karwowski advises on the dangers of DVT and how it can be prevented.

According to Weill Cornell Assistant Professor of Surgery Dr. John Karwowski, who also spoke at the seminar, trauma and surgery are only two of several risk factors associated with DVT. Cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, age, and immobility (including long airplane flights or a prolonged stay in a hospital bed) may all contribute to deep vein thrombosis. Although a pulmonary embolism is the worst-case outcome for DVT, there are other significant health issues associated with the condition.

"Just having deep vein thrombosis can lead to post-thrombotic syndromes including wound issues, swelling and skin breakdown," said Dr. Karwowski. "Even if you survive a pulmonary embolism, you may develop problems with chronic hypertension."

Combating DVT is largely a matter of precaution. The most important preventative steps are leading an active, fit lifestyle and eating right. During times of temporary immobility, such as airplane travel, there are many activities that maintain blood flow and help prevent DVT, including seated exercises and stretches. For longer periods of immobility during hospital stays or after surgery, it is important for patients to ask their physician how to best prevent DVT based on their individual circumstances.

Phil Niekro and Paul Blair sign autographs following the seminar.

Although DVT rarely makes headlines, the condition leads to more deaths annually in the U.S. than AIDS and breast cancer combined, yet it can be diagnosed with a simple ultrasound.

"DVT is underdiagnosed, undertreated and underevaluated; it's a rampant problem in the public health arena," Dr. Karwowski said. "We need to be more aggressive in preventing and treating this condition."

The event was sponsored by Sanofi-Aventis, a pharmaceutical company, as part of their "DVT Blood Clots: Know the Stats, Know Your Risk" series. For more information about DVT, visit

Photos by Amelia Panico.

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