Northwestern Medicine doctors rescue former Orlando Roller Derby player from life-threatening blood clots
The 32-year-old received a “Christmas miracle” last year when she walked into one of the few hospitals in the U.S. to offer specialized surgery for CTEPH (chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension)
Chicago – December 19, 2022 – Jessica Lopez is grateful to be alive this Christmas after surviving rare, life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.
In December 2021, the 32-year-old from Kissimmee, Fla., was on a cross-country road trip with her brother when her health took a turn for the worse.
“We’d done some sightseeing in Chicago the day before,” said Lopez. “The next morning, I woke up at the hotel and felt like there was something in my chest. I went to the bathroom and started coughing up blood.”
Lopez’s brother walked her across the street to the emergency department at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where CT scans revealed she had chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH)– a condition where chronic blood clots obstruct the flow of blood to the lungs causing elevated blood pressure in the lung’s arteries.
“This is a very specialized disease state,” said Michael J. Cuttica, MD, pulmonologist at Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Not many people understand this disease or recognize it. I think this is evident by the fact that she had about five years of symptoms before she was finally diagnosed.”
While the diagnosis initially worried Lopez, it did provide some answers. The flat-track roller derby player had developed years of progressive shortness of breath and had to end her career with Orlando Roller Derby. Eventually, she had trouble just walking around her house.
After a few days of testing and treatment with the CTEPH team at Northwestern Medicine, Lopez underwent pulmonary thromboendarterectomy surgery (PTE), which can be curative.
“What’s special about Jessica’s case is that the right lung was completely blocked off by the clot. And there was smaller, harder-to-reach segmental disease on the left side,” said S. Chris Malaisrie, MD, cardiac surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. “We are one of the few centers in the country to offer this curative surgery and the only multidisciplinary team in Illinois. The fact that she happened to be staying in a hotel across the street from a hospital that offers this is miraculous.”
One week after Christmas, Lopez was discharged from Northwestern Memorial and made the trek home to Florida. While blood thinning medication prevents her from returning to roller derby, she’s grateful to get back to other favorite activities like hiking and weightlifting.
“This whole ordeal has been life-changing,” said Lopez. “My brother was my saving grace and I’m incredibly grateful for my team at Northwestern Medicine. Any awareness I can bring to this disease going forward will be a major positive in my life.”
For more information about the Northwestern Medicine CTEPH team, visit nm.org.