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'Busting' loose

Sherwood woman pedaling to raise awareness of disease.
by: , Cheryl and Tom Edwards sport their

Pulmonary embolisms kill more Americans each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined, but Sherwood resident Cheryl Edwards never thought she was in danger of suffering one, especially given her active lifestyle.

Now that she's survived two, Edwards is determined to help others understand the dangers and warning signs of Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a serious but little-known disease that often leads to lethal embolisms. By spending two months pedaling 3000 miles across the country, Edwards hopes to help people understand that DVT can have the same deadly consequences of more publicized diseases.

Cheryl and her husband, Tom, set off June 21 from Seattle on a cycling tour that will take them through 12 states, ending in Washington, D.C. on August 8. It will be a physically demanding trip for all of the riders - the Edwards are part of a group that includes 40 other cyclists and a few support vehicles to transport gear between campsites. But for Cheryl, it will be especially difficult, as she must monitor her blood and ride much slower than she used to when she was racing in triathlons and adventure races.

Edwards is used to monumental challenges by this point. The root of her health problems began more than five years ago, when she had dental surgery and developed a massive infection in her jaw. She suffered severe swelling and inflammation. But after her jaw finally healed, the more serious problems began.

In 2003, Edwards began to feel shortness of breath during her regular workouts, and eventually, doctors found clots in her lungs. She said doctors 'kind of blew it off' as a random occurrence, treated the problem, and moved on. Two years later, she felt the same shortness of breath. Her electrocardiogram (EKG) and oxygen level tests showed no abnormalities - sometimes a reason why DVT is not diagnosed. But a scan showed blood clots in her lungs again.

'Here I am, a fitness instructor. I was just floored, and my doctors were also,' Edwards said. She thought the problem, 'only happens to inactive people, or those who are old, or fly too long.'

Edwards was in part correct, as people with those characteristics are more likely to develop DVT. The condition occurs when blood begins to pool in veins in one's legs, which eventually leads to clotting. If that clot breaks free, it can travel through the bloodstream and into the lungs, and is often fatal. According to the American Heart Association, up to 2 million Americans develop DVT each year, and about 200,000 of those cases result in death from a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a clot or a piece of plaque blocks a blood vessel.

But as Edwards found out, other DVT risk factors include hereditary problems, trauma incidents like fractures, cancer, age, and surgery, particularly a procedure that leads results in infammation. The disease gained some notoriety in 2003 when it killed NBC News correspondant David Bloom, who was largely immobile for days after flying to Iraq and traveling around inside of a cramped tank. But Edwards said most people have no idea about the multiple risk factors that can lead to DVT.

With so many deaths attributed to the condition, Edwards was shocked to find that there was so little information available about the drug, and that research on DVT lagged so far behind. Most who suffer from DVT are prescribed warfarin, a drug that has been around for more than 50 years.

'What I've been told is, 'Well, we don't have a movie star,' ' Edwards lamented. She said a lack of high-profile cases and the subsequent lack of public information on the disease has kept drug companies from investing in treatments for the disease, and often, even some doctors aren't as well-equipped as they could be to treat the condition. On her cycling trip, Edwards will stop in schools and hospitals to talk about the disease, and she has also set up a Web site, www.Nwclotbusters.org, that includes a blog and information about the trip, and serves as a clearinghouse for information about DVT.

'I feel a real urgency to tell other people about this. I just want that one chance to tell people and help them be aware,' she said. 'Eighty percent of these comnditions are found in autopsy, and it gives people no warning, they die within 10 minutes.'

In addition to increasing awareness about the disease, Edwards hopes her trip will set an example for others living with DVT who are living a sedentary lifestyle. Because of the anticoagulant drugs, a fracture or internal injury could cause someone being treated with the disease to bleed to death quickly.

While Edwards no longer rides in large packs or races, she still rides her bike to doctor's appointments, and still teaches cycling fitness classes at 24 Hour Fitness location throughout the greater-Portland area.

'My hematoloigist and other doctors are very good about realizing that you have to have a quality of life. I am concerned about being hurt, but then again, I also have to draw the line because I've talked to so many people with this condition and they're like vegetables, they're so afraid to get hurt.' Edwards explained. 'This, to me, is a way to have some of your passion. You can't take all of it away.'

For more information on DVT, to view Edwards route and blog during the ride, or to sign up for updates from the trip, visit www.Nwclotbusters.org.

While Edwards no longer rides in large packs or races, she still rides her bike to doctor's appointments, and still teaches cycling fitness classes at 24 Hour Fitness location throughout the greater-Portland area.

'My hematoloigist and other doctors are very good about realizing that you have to have a quality of life. I am concerned about being hurt, but then again, I also have to draw the line because I've talked to so many people with this condition and they're like vegetables, they're so afraid to get hurt.' Edwards explained. 'This, to me, is a way to have some of your passion. You can't take all of it away.'