New York Mets' 26-year-old right-hander, Dillon Gee, had surgery this week to break up a blood clot in his pitching shoulder. The clot was discovered with testing on Monday after Gee complained of numbness in his fingers on Sunday, one day after a winning performance against the Cubs. The clot, referred to as a thrombus in medical terminology, was broken up using a catheter, but it has been reported that Gee will undergo a more involved procedure tomorrow to repair damage to the involved artery in order to prevent recurrence. It is likely he will miss the remainder of the season.
Gee's injury recalls that suffered by J.R. Richard of the Houston Astros, whose complaints went unheeded until he suffered a stroke in 1980, which was followed by emergency surgery to remove a life threatening clot in his neck. The stroke essentially ended Richard's career.
Blood clots can form either in veins, which carry blood to the heart, or in arteries, which carry it from the heart to the lungs to be oxygenated and then circulate it to the tissues of the body.
Clots can form for a variety of reasons and are an important and naturally occurring part of the repair that occurs when there is damage to a blood vessel or if a wound is sustained. This prevents excessive bleeding. However, venous clots (clots occurring in veins) can form due to other circumstances, such as during a period of immobilization (i.e. while in a cast after orthopedic injury, with prolonged plane travel, during hospitalizations...). Muscle movement, important in assisting peripheral blood flow, is minimized in these situations and clotting is more likely.
Another potential cause of thrombosis is the response to a tearing or rupture of the plaque that forms in arteries of those with peripheral vascular disease. These types of clots can further block the flow of blood in already narrowed vessels, causing symptoms such as those felt by Dillon Gee (though his problem was caused by damage to the artery itself).
A clot that forms in one place and is transported within the blood vessels to another area of the body is called an embolus. Early diagnosis and treatment of a clot is vital to prevent an embolus from becoming life threatening by moving from the deep veins to the heart (a coronary embolus, can cause heart attack), or then to the lungs (a pulmonary embolus), or to the brain. The latter is one mechanism that causes stroke.
Dillon Gee should do very well following surgery but will have to take it easy for a bit. His condition highlights the importance of taking quick action when one experiences the onset of symptoms and the need for accuracy in diagnosis.