Remember back to your undergraduate days – life was good. Your world was full of hope and potential, and much like every other 20-something, you were virtually invincible. Would you have known back
then just how serious a seemingly simple pain behind the knee could be, and that it would change your life forever?
Kelsey Minarik was a junior in college back in 2008. Her life had been an active one, having played soccer and run track throughout her youth. So when the 21-year old noticed a nagging pain behind her knee, her doctor prescribed physical therapy. Like many younger people, she blew it off. Ignoring that advice turned out to be one of the most fortunate decisions she could have ever made.
While on a much anticipated plane trip to New York to celebrate her 21st birthday with a friend, fate came calling. During the redeye flight, she noticed that her leg began to swell “like crazy”. Wearing skinny jeans and ballet flats, Kelsey had no idea that there was something seriously wrong beginning to emerge. “By the time I landed, my leg was so swollen that it barely fit in the pants leg. My shoes were so tight I couldn’t wear them,” she recalls. “I iced and elevated it for the entire week I was in New York, and then when I took the flight home, I finally realized that something was up.”
Fortuitously, the trip also brought about a sore throat, prompting her to seek out some relief from her doctor. When she casually mentioned the leg swelling, she believes she was truly lucky that her doctor had spent a significant amount of time in the ER , prompting him to send her directly to the hospital for assessment. “He said ‘Get in the car and go to the ER -- NOW .’ I didn’t know what was going on, but I could tell it was an urgent situation.”
Just a few years earlier, Kelsey had sought relief from another ailment, menstrual pain, and she was given the option of birth control pills to ease the symptoms. “I remember my father asking me if I had weighed out the possible down side to taking the Pill, and I had said confidently that I had and I wasn’t too concerned. I thought that nothing bad would happen to me.”
That A-Ha Moment
The RVT who was assigned to her at the hospital originally took the approach of providing a lighthearted education about the venous system. “I think she wasn’t taking it very seriously at first because I was so young and in good health,” recalls Minarik. The RVT explained what she was seeing throughout the exam, merrily chatting with the patient as she assessed one leg – the “good” one – then the other. Kelsey says she noticed that the technician suddenly just stopped talking. “I knew something was up, but because she wasn’t allowed to tell me anything about what she had found, I had to wait for a physician to come in to give me the diagnosis.”
“Kid,” said the doctor in the ER , “you’ve got yourself one heck of a blood clot.”
The clot went from her ankle all the way up to her knee like a thick cord. “At first, I felt relief that they had discovered it was a blood clot because I thought that if they knew what it was, they could fix it. But then he kept talking, and I realized that it wasn’t a good prognosis, after all.”
“This is serious,” he went on to explain. “I need to educate you on what is going to happen from here. What is scary about this situation is there is a chance of pulmonary embolism, and if that happens, you have a chance of dying.” It was so much to process that Kelsey just kind of “glazed over,” as she describes it.
While being young and in shape may have been on her side, Kelsey is thankful that she had mentioned the symptoms to her doctor and that she had followed his advice. “You hear stories about those that didn’t do anything about it and it’s scary to think what could have happened if I hadn’t asked. Having been someone who has come through this with a positive outcome makes me realize how lucky I am.”
Kelsey credits Thomas Hirose, MD , FCA P with the San Clemente and Laguna Hills Coumadin Clinics as a huge influence on her education and positive outcome. “He was such a great support who helped talk me through everything. He was so attentive and amazing, and he and his team were very helpful with the platelet tests and Factor V Leiden genetic testing to tell me what my risk factors were for the future. They tested my blood to check my body pathology to see what would happen if we added agents like hormonal birth control pills. I learned that the blood reacts with each of those agents – even low dose BCPs.” Kelsey adds, “It seems as though BCPs are handed out like candy and the potential risks are really high.”
Being an International Business major, Kelsey had a planned trip to Europe a few months later and she was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to go. “I was told not to move until we got the blood thinned out. After 15 days of Lovenox and over a year of Coumadin, my prognosis was a little better, but I still couldn’t play soccer or run for a long time.” Kelsey goes on to say that when she was finally cleared to go to Europe, she couldn’t participate in any of the activities she had looked forward to. “We had a weekend trip to Chamonix, the extreme sports capital of the French Alps. While all my friends were off trekking through ice caves, hang gliding, and white water rafting, I was stuck in the hotel crying from altitude-induced pain.”
Since the incident, many people she has talked to say they have known others who have had DVT . Kelsey shares, “I remember thinking, ‘But how do we tell people how serious this is?’ I’m a living example that this could happen to anyone.”
Making people aware of the risks and the percentages has become a large part of her focus. “Although we are thinking on the scale of 100s of millions of people, any small percentage is really not that small! I’ve enlightened so many of my friends about the connection between birth control and DVT . There was no real discussion with my physician about the potential risks and I thought that nothing bad would happen to me.”
Doing Something About It
Throughout her treatment, Kelsey found she was often in a lot of pain. “It was a case of me being in so much pain that I was seeing stars, and I was concerned about taking any over the counter pain relief because they didn’t seem to work and I was scared about the interactions that might occur if I did take something while in treatment.” Compression stockings were the only thing that gave her relief.
Unfortunately, she was horrified at the prospects of wearing them. She tried several brands, at great expense, but she couldn’t find anything suitable for someone her age and with her fashion concerns. “I was working my first job out of college and I remember driving home from work, thinking ‘This sucks! I have got to do something about this.’” What started out as a sort of passion project became her main focus. Kelsey decided it was time to create a new line of compression stockings that incorporated both the graduated compression that she and other venous disease patients require, and a touch of style that someone with her youthfulness and fashion sense would appreciate and actually wear. Although, make no mistake – these stockings aren’t just for the young. “I get emails from women who love the idea of the fashion compression stockings. One 80-year old woman wrote to me about our stockings and she said ‘I’m still sassy and I still want to feel pretty. Your products do
Now, a year after launching her company, RejuvaHealth, and getting their name out there with the product, Kelsey and her team are working on the second generation of products. “My manufacturer has been really invested in the process and I’m fortunate that they believe in the concept of fashion stockings with quality compression. As a person who has gone through this, I believe it will pay off for those who dislike the options previously available to them. I’m on the side of the patient and I wear them myself. I test all the products myself.”
Kelsey is also fortunate to have found support of another kind. “My right-hand girl, Stacy, had a blood clot at 20 that went from her ankle all the way up to her groin. Her story is different than mine, as she has to wear stockings day and night, 24/7. She and I take the products and wear them, and assess them, so we are really personally invested in making this successful.”
RejuvaHealth’s products have been featured on the Dr. Oz Show, which is enthusiastically followed by a wide swatch of the female demographic throughout the country. The boost from appearing on the show has sparked additional opportunities to get the word out. In fact, the next generation stockings have recently been accepted as a QVC product, which means that QVC will not only help increase awareness about DVT , but it will also present the stockings as a “beauty treatment”, helping people learn about how compression can help relieve swelling, discomfort, and protect the health of your legs, taking them from fashion accessory to health and wellness.
The process for getting a product onto QVC is quite arduous. “You wouldn’t believe all the hoops that we have had to jump through! But now with the QVC attention we’re getting, I’m very excited to see that this is all comin together. The growth has been proof that we are going in the right direction. We are currently developing our Men’s line, which will be more ‘male friendly’, but most of my customers are women.”
What is the hardest part of growing her business? “Right now it’s the matter of putting my most important resource – my time – into making this successful. The QVC process has been so daunting, but it has reaffirmed that the product is meeting the needs and is attractive. But without my story, the product is just another product. This terrible personal story has become a catalyst for so much good.”
For the Greater Good
Kelsey has jumped into this topic with both feet. Working closely with the National Blood Clot Alliance which promotes their Stop the Clot Forums across the country, Kelsey hopes to share her story on a larger scale. “I feel like I have an obligation to share my story in any and every venue possible where people will not simply hear, but listen. Knowledge is power – but it is amazing how many people are afraid of knowledge.”
Recently, RejuvaHealth sponsored Cocktails for a Cause, an event held in Orange County, California with a silent auction and dinner to get the conversation started. Raising over $9,000 that evening and over $31,000 total during the course of the surrounding month-long campaign, all funds collected for the Cocktails for a Cause event were donated directly to the National Blood Clot Alliance.
Kelsey shares, “the entire experience was very gratifying. In addition to the opportunity to contribute those fundraising dollars which go directly towards awareness and support efforts, I loved that the entire campaign also got the conversation started about blood clots. So many of those we spoke to with the Stop the Clot event were unaware of what types of things can put them at risk and the simple things they can do to mediate those risk factors. My favorite ‘convertees’ were the young women who had no idea what DVT was before attending that evening, but they walked away with increased awareness about over the counter birth control options (instead of the Pill) and how simple tools like compression could help protect and preserve their health.”
“This next year is going to be so exciting because we have started to build momentum and things are really looking up for our future,” beams Kelsey. “The emails I receive make my day. The sweetest girl in her 20s emailed me. She has severe edema and hated compression stockings, ‘but now I have your products and
you make me feel pretty.’”
In fact, Kelsey has found that wearing her brand of fashion compression has garnered quite a few
questions. “They are a conversation starter! I hear women tell me ‘I love your tights,’ and I say, ‘Well get this, they’re actually medical stockings!’ It becomes a totally different conversation.”
Kelsey shares, “I have found that patients don’t really get to choose the specifics in any other area of venous treatment, so this is the only area where one can make a choice. I invite them to walk a mile in my stockings, literally!”
by Jana Acciacca