“Every day I count my blessings!’’
Mom-to-be Malisa Collins couldn’t wait for her husband, who was deployed overseas, to return home so they could welcome their new baby into the world. Then suddenly everything changed . . .
A fter buying her movie ticket, Malisa Collins headed to the snack bar. Thirty-seven weeks pregnant, Malisa figured this would be one of her last quiet outings before her baby arrived.
But suddenly, while waiting for her popcorn, Malisa felt as if an elephant was standing on her chest. And when she tried to take a deep breath, it only grew worse.
Sitting down for a moment, the Rosamond, California, mom-to-be tried not to panic.
But what if something’s wrong with me? Or my baby? she worried, heading to the hospital. Saving Malisa There,
doctors detected that Malisa had a heart murmur, not uncommon in pregnancy due to the extra blood flow.
“But your baby looks just fine,” a doctor reassured Malisa, sending her home to rest, with instructions to follow up with a cardiologist.
Thank goodness Josh will be coming home soon, Malisa thought. Her husband, a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, was deployed in South Korea. But he was scheduled to be back for their baby’s birth.
That evening, during a Skype session, Malisa told Josh what had happened.
“If the doctors aren’t worried, then we won’t worry,” Josh said, comforting her.
But a few days later, when Malisa had her cardiologist appointment, the specialist felt her symptoms were too severe to be merely a pregnancy-related murmur. And after further tests, he didn’t waste a minute.
“We’re life-flighting you to UCLA for emergency surgery,” he told Malisa, explaining that while earlier tests must have missed it, her aorta—the largest artery in the body, located at the top of the left ventricle, the heart’s muscular pumping chamber—had ruptured!
Malisa would need an immediate C-section, followed by heart surgery. “It’s a miracle you survived this long. There’s no time to spare,” the cardiologist told her.
Shocked and terrified, Malisa tried to come to grips with what was happening. A civilian Air Force employee, she’d been planning to return to work after her doctor’s appointment, but now . . . Her hands shaking, Malisa tried to call Josh, but it was the middle of the night in Seoul.
What if I never wake up? What if I never get to see my baby or say goodbye to Josh? Malisa panicked as she was prepared for surgery.
Bundle of blessings Malisa’s
boss arranged for Josh to have immediate leave. Meanwhile, Malisa’s team of specialists at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were in a race against time.
The moment six-pound, threeounce baby Connor drew his first breath, chief of cardiac surgery Richard Shemin, M.D., began working to save the life of his mother.
In a six-hour surgery, doctors replaced Malisa’s aortic valve with a mechanical one, then reconstructed the major arteries to her heart, arms and brain.
When her eyes fluttered open, Malisa’s first thoughts and questions were about her baby. “He’s perfect!” nurses smiled. Soon after, a weary and worried Josh rushed into her hospital room. “The doctor said you’re going to be okay,” he choked, kissing Malisa. Then, the thankful new parents were escorted to the nursery to see their newborn son.
Nurses gently placed Connor in Malisa’s arms— and she flooded with relief. You’re here. And I am, too. I’m alive! Your mama’s alive! Malisa thought as she kissed his tiny cheeks.
After Connor was discharged, he was moved into his mother’s room while she recovered. And soon, they both went home.
Today, at almost four months, baby Connor coos and smiles constantly.
Sometimes, whether she’s working part-time, or grocery shopping, or rocking Connor, Malisa—who has since been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue, which increases the risk of aortic dissection—hears the click of the valve installed in her heart, and her heart beats a little faster.
“To think what could have been and what is . . . every day I count my blessings,” she marvels. “It’s a miracle that Connor is here. It’s a miracle that I’m here. And I think that makes me the luckiest mom and woman in the world!”
Don’t give up before the miracle happens.” FANNIE FLAGG
“I am so grateful to be here with Josh and my precious baby boy,” says Malisa.