A young man with a history of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism 11 years ago presented again with acute pulmonary embolism and was treated initially with intravenous heparin at our institution. Five days later he had another massive bout of pulmonary embolism causing hypotension. Pulmonary angiography confirmed the presence of thrombi in both pulmonary arteries, with complete obstruction of the left pulmonary artery. He was treated successfully by emergency pulmonary embolectomy. Blood investigations later confirmed the diagnosis of protein S deficiency and he was started on warfarin therapy for life. Massive pulmonary embolism should be treated aggressively. Thrombolytic therapy accelerates clot lysis, reduces pulmonary pressures, restores pulmonary capillary volume and reverses right heart failure faster than heparin alone. There is also a trend towards decreased mortality with thrombolysis. In the presence of shock, the patient should be resuscitated and if facilities for emergency embolectomy are available, surgery is a viable alternative to thrombolysis, especially if the clot burden is massive. In young patients with recurrent venous thromboembolism in the absence of obvious predisposing factors, it is important to exclude inherited plasma protein deficiencies of protein S, protein C, antithrombin III, plasminogen and fibrinogen.