Serena Williams has previously opened up about almost dying following the 2017 birth of her daughter, but never before like this. The tennis star describes the horror of four surgeries in a week in a nearly 2,500-word essay in the April edition of Elle magazine. An emergency C-section, triggered by a drop in the baby's heart rate, "went smoothly." But little else did. Sometime after the C-section, Williams requested heparin, a drug that reduces blood clots, be delivered via IV. As she explains, "In 2010, I learned I had blood clots in my lungs—clots that, had they not been caught in time, could have killed me" and she remained at high risk.
But "no one was really listening to what I was saying," Williams writes. "All the while, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn't move at all—not my legs, not my back, nothing." Unable to get enough air, she began coughing. The coughing tore her stitches, prompting surgery. Williams writes that after a second surgery, "I felt like I was dying." She again requested a heparin drip as well as a CAT scan of her lungs. A nurse initially told her the "medicine is making you talk crazy," she writes. But Williams was persistent—through tennis, "I've suffered every injury imaginable, and I know my body"—and her doctor finally agreed. It was then that they discovered the reason for all the coughing.
"Lo and behold, I had a blood clot in my lungs, and they needed to insert a filter into my veins to break up the clot before it reached my heart." That was quite a process as "they couldn't find a filter to fit in my veins" (athletes have bigger ones, she learned). Williams, who was found to have "more clots that had to be kept from traveling to my lungs" as well as a hematoma in her abdomen, spent a week in the hospital. "Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me," she writes. But "in the US, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during or after childbirth" than white women. She adds, "I know those statistics would be different if the medical establishment listened to every Black woman's experience." (Read the essay in full here.)