Karen Alexander poses with a few of her students

For Karen Alexander of Timonium, Maryland, a little pain was nothing. A competitive swimmer and aquatic personal trainer, Karen was used to having sports injuries, so when she noticed sporadic calf pain, she didn't think to see her doctor. What Karen didn't realize is that the pain she was feeling was indicative of an aneurysm, a potentially life-threatening condition that almost cost Karen her leg.

When Karen's calf pain turned to severe foot pain, Karen went to the emergency room at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center before being transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) for highly specialized care.

After arriving at UMMC, vascular surgeons worked quickly to preserve Karen's muscle tissue to give her every opportunity to restore leg function. Karen spent one week in the hospital before doctors sent her home to begin recovery. Two weeks later, however, Karen was faced with a complication – the aneurysm behind her knee embolized, or pushed through the stent, causing blood clots in her foot. Karen's condition was critical and again, doctors had to work very fast to ensure that Karen did not lose any muscle function. Utilizing angiograms, an X-ray image that shows blood flow, and specialized medication, doctors were able to break up the blood clots in Karen's foot. Almost six weeks after she first entered St. Joseph's, Karen was finally on her way home to recover.

Karen's recovery was challenging – used to coaching others through rehabilitation, Karen was now the patient. She underwent intense physical therapy for more than a year to restore the use of her leg, with no idea if she would ever be able to return to work. Karen says that was her motivation – she pushed herself as hard as she could every day in the hopes to not only walk again, but to return to the job she loved.

Karen's hard work paid off, and she returned to work, once again helping others to rehabilitate from injury.