The following story is from an interview with Bryan Hill, a patient at PSCC.
An initial ER diagnosis for a blood clot turned out to be far more serious. Dr. Birchfield immediately hospitalized Bryan and focused not only on his genetic blood clotting disorder but also an inferior venous system that required surgery to save his leg.
"I came close to losing my leg from a blood clot until Dr. Birchfield stepped in."
Bryan Hill was just an 8th grader in 2002 when he sat in Dr. Birchfield's office with his dad. And it wasn't because either of them had cancer. They were there because Bryan carried a genetic mutation from his dad that affected his blood's clotting mechanism. And they were there because Dr. Birchfield is a board certified oncologist/hematologist - a specialist in both cancer and diseases of the blood. "At first, I thought it was pretty weird, being in a cancer center for a blood disease. It never occurred to me that hematology and oncology were part of the same specialty. But Dr. Birchfield was reassuring and said I could go on to live a normal, active life. I just had to be careful not to sit too long, like on a plane, without stretching and walking around to prevent clots from forming."
That was years ago. Everything was going fine until Bryan had surgery on his hand in 2005 and then noticed pain and swelling in his right leg. He went to a downtown hospital's ER only to be sent home with a blood thinner prescription to prevent the clot in his right femoral vein from growing. They said there wasn't anything else they could do for him. But it wasn't long before his leg had swollen to twice its size and the pain became unbearable. So he went back to the same downtown ER, only to be sent home - again.
"That's when my dad said, 'I've made an appointment - you're going to Dr. Birchfield.' And it was right there that Dr. Birchfield laid it all out for me. He said, 'We have a very short window and we have this one option.'" Because so much time had lapsed since the clot appeared, he risked increasing damage to his venous system from the back pressure of the blood unable to circulate back to the heart. Dr. Birchfield hospitalized Bryan at Northwest Hospital immediately, and conferred with an interventional radiologist who the next morning, inserted a catheter through Bryan's body to directly infuse medicine into the clot.
That's when they found out that Bryan had more than a clotting mutation. He was born without an inferior vena cava - the major vein that carries blood returning to the heart. In its place was a mass of smaller veins - most of which were blocked with multiple clots. They carefully dissolved the clots - one of which was right in a major valve - and inserted stents to keep the veins open.
Bryan adds. "I could've lost my leg, so this was all bittersweet. I was scared, but finally someone knew what it was, what to do and started doing it right away. Dr. Birchfield came in to see me in the hospital every day, gave me an update and we just talked. He gives it to you pretty straight and I like that. He's gentle but puts it right out there and answers all of your questions." Bryan was released from the hospital after about a week and has been on a prescription blood thinner ever since. He still visits PSCC regularly, though, to monitor his blood. "It's a good thing I live close. I work part time and go to school. I wouldn't have time to do all that and drive downtown for every appointment."
Through all of this, Bryan knew he was in the right place with the right doctor. "I was always reassured by Dr. Birchfield. There was no sugar coating of anything, which I like. He's real honest and professional, not trying to minimize anything or be all buddy-buddy. He's a real professional and that gives you confidence. I recommend PSCC whenever the subject comes up."
Bryan also reflected on what it was like coming to PSCC regularly to get his blood levels checked. "You know, it's always the same lady who checks me in and she knew my name right away. Everyone there is so helpful - and fun - there's always talking and laughing from the receptionist to the people in the lab to the nurses. It's not what you experience in a big, cold hospital. At PSCC, they know me, my family, our history and if I call, I always get a call back right away. I don't think you can get that kind of responsiveness anywhere else. "
"And as sick as I was, there was something else I came to know about Dr. Birchfield - his laugh! You can pick him out of a crowd from just his laugh!"