Malisa was at the movies, just a few weeks away from giving birth to her first child, when she felt a sudden pain in her chest. She sought an evaluation from a cardiologist, who told her she had a life-threatening tear in her aorta. Malisa, who lives about 80 miles from Los Angeles, was immediately airlifted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
“It was moments like that you knew just how serious it was,” she says. “They’re staring at you like, ‘No, we can’t wait.’”
Malisa has been on quite the journey since. She was honored as the UCLA Health Laker for a Day on Nov. 5, shining a light on heart health as she watched the Lakers notch a 107-102 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at the first NBA game she ever attended.
There have been many firsts for Malisa this year.
After her diagnosis, she was told doctors at UCLA would perform an emergency cesarean section to save the baby, then immediately start heart surgery. Her husband, Josh, a master sergeant in the Air Force, was on assignment in South Korea and quickly made plans to travel back to California. They spoke briefly by phone as she was wheeled in a gurney to the helicopter.
Malisa arrived at the hospital to find a UCLA team of 23 specialists assembled, including heart surgeons, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, neonatologists, nurses, a perfusionist and experts from respiratory therapy and neurophysiology.
“The only thing I know is that all the doctors standing around me seemed so sure about everything that I wasn’t actually that worried about the surgery,” she says.
Following the procedures, Josh was there to greet her – and so was their newborn son, Connor.
“As soon as they put him in my arms, I cried. He’s my miracle baby,” she says. “As my husband says, he’s also my hero because I don’t know how fast I would have gone to the emergency room if I wasn’t pregnant.”
Malisa was able to celebrate her recovery and bring attention to the importance of seeking medical care during her Laker for a Day experience. Malisa and a friend received a behind-the-scenes tour of Staples Center, eating dinner in the Chairman's Lounge and watching warm-ups on the floor. She also received a surprise video recorded by her husband in South Korea that was shown throughout the arena during a break in the game, drawing applause from fans.
“Being Laker for a Day gets your story out so people don’t wait,” she says. “If I wasn’t pregnant, I might have waited a few days. When it comes to your heart and your chest, it’s so important to seek help.”
For more information about UCLA heart and vascular services, visit heart.ucla.edu