Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Raymond Hubbard has faced many situations that have left him breathless over his 25-year career in law enforcement. But last February, walking up his stairs at his home in Richmond to play with his then 2-year-old daughter, he couldn’t breathe and described feeling as though he had been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.

“I had to bend over the railing to try to catch my breath,” the 53-year-old single dad said. “I couldn’t even play with her. I just sat on the floor while she played, until I finally couldn’t take it anymore and told my mom to take me to the hospital.”

Deputy Hubbard’s mom took him to the Emergency Center at Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital, where tests determined he had a blood clot in his lung that needed to come out immediately.

“When we looked at the CT scan of his chest, we saw that Mr. Hubbard was experiencing what we call a pulmonary embolism,” said Wahaj Aman, MD, an assistant professor at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and an interventional cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Katy. “A very large blood clot was blocking the right side of his pulmonary artery, the right side of his heart was strained and his cardiac enzymes were elevated due to the stress on his heart.”

Pulmonary embolism is a serious condition that results in death in 25% of cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The doctor came in and told me that I wasn’t going to work and that I was going to have emergency surgery,” Deputy Hubbard recalls.

This was not the first time he had experienced a pulmonary embolism. In 2013, following a car accident while on the job, he also developed a pulmonary embolism that was resolved with a prescription blood thinner.

“Mr. Hubbard was a candidate for mechanical thrombectomy, because he needed immediate relief and because of his history with pulmonary emboli,” Dr. Aman said. “With this procedure, performed in our cardiac catheterization lab (“cath lab”), we insert a catheter into the femoral vein in the groin and thread it through the heart and into the pulmonary artery. Then, with the vacuum created by a syringe, we suck the clot out, immediately restoring blood flow and oxygen to the lungs. Typically, there’s no intubation or ICU stay required.”

The alternative treatment for a pulmonary embolism, Dr. Aman noted, is to deliver clot-busting medication, also through a catheter inserted into the groin. This procedure requires patients to lie flat in the cath lab for six to 12 hours until the clot is dissolved. He added that some patients who don’t experience breathing difficulties or who don’t have elevated cardiac enzymes with a pulmonary embolism can be treated with a blood thinner, as Deputy Hubbard had been previously treated. This time, though, he needed the mechanical thrombectomy for immediate relief.

“After they were done with the procedure, it was the fastest recovery ever,” Deputy Hubbard said. “I could breathe, I wasn’t tired and I went home in two days with just a stitch in my groin.”

“Mr. Hubbard’s follow-up ultrasound and exam revealed the right side of his heart has improved and his lungs are well oxygenated, but he must remain on a blood thinner to prevent more clots from developing,” Dr. Aman said. “Like many patients we’ve seen in the ongoing clinical trials of mechanical thrombectomy, he had instantaneous relief following the procedure. This treatment is especially beneficial to unstable patients or those who cannot tolerate clot-busting drugs.”

The experience didn’t slow Deputy Hubbard down. “I’m active. I ride my bike 10 to 20 miles a day, exercise three to four days a week, and I frequently travel to Europe,” he said. As a deputy and dad of a now three-year-old, he’s determined to keep his current pace. “I’m feeling great.”

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