Woman Almost Declared Dead, No Stranger to Heart Trouble

From left: Cardiac arrest survivor Melanie Baldwin with her daughter, Kate Eggington, and mother, Carol Payne. (Photo by Traci Brewer)

Jeff and Melanie Baldwin were hanging a picture in the dining room of their Las Vegas home when Melanie collapsed.

Jeff grabbed his phone and dialed 911. Preparing for the ambulance to arrive, he closed the bedroom doors to keep their four cats in, unlocked the front door and talked to the dispatcher while giving Melanie CPR that he had learned as a safety manager.

"If he'd been upstairs, it would have been all over," she said.

Melanie is no stranger to heart trouble. At the time of her cardiac arrest in 2013, she'd had five open-heart surgeries.

"I'm kind of an overachiever," she said.

As an infant, Melanie looked like a blue-and-pink checkerboard. Doctors knew something was wrong with her heart. They operated when she was 3 and discovered multiple serious problems.

Melanie was born with a condition called aortic stenosis. Her aortic valve had two flaps, not the normal three, and instead of being thin and flexible, they were so thick and stiff that she had only a pinhole for blood to flow through. Her heart had to work harder, leading to an enlarged heart. She had another operation at 7.

"I never played sports. I never ran, never did anything strenuous as a child," she said.

Melanie was 19 when doctors replaced her aortic valve with a mechanical one. When she got pregnant at 25, she developed a blood clot despite being on blood thinners. She had to have open-heart surgery while 26 weeks pregnant.

"I thought they both might die," said her mother, Carol Payne.

Surgeons removed Melanie's mechanical valve and replaced it with a pig valve, which meant no more blood thinners. Three months later, she gave birth to her daughter, Kate.

A decade later, surgeons replaced Melanie's pig valve with a titanium valve that is good for 60 years. They also inserted a pacemaker to help her heart pump more efficiently.

"The minute they put it in, I felt so much better," she said.

Doctors suspect Melanie's cardiac arrest on Father's Day weekend in 2013 was caused by an abscessed tooth, which may have led to a heart infection.

Melanie's rescue proved to be quite dramatic. She was defibrillated eight times before her heart got to a sustainable rhythm. It took 45 minutes, long enough that doctors in the emergency room were prepared to declare a time of death.