“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 . . .

Woman's World - - Double Miracle - — Marti At­toun

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.

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