Reginald Clayton, 49, is an avid traveller. An expert on viruses and infectious diseases, he visits countries far and wide carrying out seminars on the subject while enjoying foreign cultures, climates and cuisines.
But five years ago, during a tour of Japan and Korea which involved seven flights over five days, he became desperately ill with a deep vein thrombosis that developed into a pulmonary embolism.
“I was mid-way through my final leg of the tour on a twelve-hour flight from Korea to London, when I got out of my seat to walk to the loo and felt a very sharp pain all the way up my right calf muscle,” he said. “This pain persisted for the remainder of the flight and when I arrived at London and was in the lounge awaiting my final flight to Glasgow, I developed an almighty migraine headache. So bad that I couldn’t see.”
Reginald returned home and went straight to bed but the pain in his calf worsened and he felt weak and disorientated.
Finally, he realised something was very wrong and contacted his GP.
“I was admitted to hospital, given anti-coagulants and a scan confirmed a clot and pulmonary embolism. I then embarked on three months of long, hard recuperation.
“The month after the clot, I slept for 20 hours a day, and was unable to function properly. My cognitive function was certainly impaired. I couldn’t remember what day of the week it was, couldn’t remember names or phone numbers.”
While the experience rocked Reginald, he hasn’t let it deter him from what he loves best – travel.
“Compression stockings and injectable anti-coagulants are part of my preparation for travelling, and they have served me well,” he said. “I still travel all over the world (although less long-haul) and still enjoy it, but there are several reminders of this close escape.
“Firstly, I have constant pain in my right calf and right foot. The damage done to the valves in my right leg veins mean that the blood doesn’t drain and return in circulation as effectively as it used to, and therefore my right foot swells up. In fact, I use to take size ten shoes. Now, I buy size 11 shoes, and my right foot is snug, and my left is rattling around in an oversized shoe.
“The other issue I have is seats. I hate seats now. Most of them are specifically designed to cut the blood flow off from my hamstrings, and prevent venous return, so when I sit in a seat now I can often be in severe pain after only a couple of minutes.
“My new travel regime consists of drinking plenty of water before and during a flight, sitting in a particular seat so I can stretch a leg out, no alcohol, and getting up frequently to walk around and chat to the flight attendants.”
Research has shown that it is not air travel which causes blood clots but being sedentary for long periods of time.
“I am very lucky to have been able to recover from this life-threatening event,” said Reginald, who wants to raise awareness of what people can do to lower their risk.
“DVT is real. It hurts and it can kill you. I just want people to know that there are simple things you can do to prevent it. And top of the list is moving around on flights and staying hydrated.”
Reginald is supporting research into the condition and will be championing RBR Active’s #SeekHELP campaign which aims to educate people on the signs and symptoms of a blood clot.