Death, Defibrillators & Disney

In 2015, two days before Christmas, Shania Gavin made the call to emergency services and watched on, as her boyfriend began compressions on her mother, whose heart had stopped beating. Now, three years on, Shania recalls the traumatic details and tells of the experience, her emotions and how her life has changed. Shaneese Royal, UOW Multimedia, reports.


Picture: Shania Gavin and Melissa Eades enjoying their celebratory holiday in March 2018


 Banal hospital walls replaced nativity scenes and glistening lights, while incessant beeping granted life to lifeless bodies, medicated into slumber. The excitement of Christmas had been pushed aside and festivities had long since been forgotten, as expected in sterile wards where patients and families grapple with concepts of life and death.

Sat in a chair beside the bed that encased her mother’s unconscious body, Shania Gavin spent Christmas of 2015 at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital. At the age of 40, Shania’s mother Melissa Eades was induced into a coma, as doctors attempted to stabilise her, following a series of heart attacks on 23rdDecember 2015. Overwhelmed with emotion, Shania held her mother’s hand, speaking to her softly, hoping she could hear.

“I felt silly, but I just told her she was going to be okay,” she says.

Shania and her boyfriend Joel were nestled up on the couch with the opening sequence to The Nanny Diaries coursing through the television, when the sound of Shania’s phone ringing interrupted the tranquillity.

Melissa asked Shania to find an alternate way home, since, upon returning from fitness boot camp, she didn’t feel well enough to drive.

“Mum had always been overly independent. She never asked for help from anyone, so that’s what alerted me. I instinctively knew something was wrong,” Shania says.

Melissa, sounding sicker than Shania had ever witnessed, hung up the phone.

Thoughts racing, frightened tears streaming down her face, Shania pleaded with Joel to take her home. Rushing, Shania threw her belongings in the back seat and Joel began the short but worrisome drive to 29 Larapinta Crescent.

With her aunty already at the house, Shania helped to get her mum into the shower. Initially they assessed her body for spider bites, completely oblivious to the severity of the situation and the events that would ensue. Out of the shower and into bed, Melissa complained of aching wrists and pain in her jaw. Symptoms of which, were unknowingly overlooked in the early stages of the night.

Meanwhile, in the next room, Shania told her boyfriend he should leave. She didn’t want him to be bored and thought it pointless for him to stick around. No sooner after Shania had entered the bedroom, after curing Joel’s boredom by putting on a movie, her aunty was whisking Melissa out of bed and into the car.

“My aunty said we were taking her to the hospital. She told me to lock up the house and grab some pyjamas, we’re leaving right now,” Shania says.

Caught off guard, Shania did as she was told, following the entourage outside and locking the door behind her.

She speaks of the impending events calmly now, composed as she stirs her coffee and dunks her strawberries in melted milk chocolate, raw emotion rearing its head every so often. Her polished recount of the imminent threat to a bond between mother and daughter is a testament to Shania’s strength and unfaltering resilience, only revisiting the past for my own indulgence.

“They left before Joel and I,” she begins.

Shania and her boyfriend, overcome by concern and uncertainty, grew more confused when, minutes after leaving the house, her aunts car pulled up to the curb. In an instant, the door flew open and screams of ‘call the ambulance’ rang out into the twilight.

The bag she had packed for her mother dropped to the floor, as she rushed to the car, Joel hot on her tail. Opening the door and reclining the passenger seat, the pair tried desperately to gain a response. Failing to detect a heartbeat, the rise and fall of a chest, or the escape of a single breath from Melissa’s lips, they pulled her out of the car and onto the lawn.

“Joel and I learnt CPR at school, so that’s what we did,” she says.

Implementing her education in first aid, Shania instinctively and momentarily began administering CPR before distress cocooned her, and Joel, without hesitation, took over. Grasping the severity of the situation, tears welled up in Shania’s panic-stricken eyes and hysterical sobs shook her body.

“She can’t die. That’s all I was thinking,” she says.

Her mother’s eyes rolled back into the depths of her skull. Her tongue began to swell until it blocked her airways. The discoloration of her skin was striking, illuminated by the street lamp above, that pierced the unnoticed and growing darkness. Melissa had died.

“My mum, the most important person in my life, was in front of me, not responding. She was dead,” she says.

Still, Joel continued compressions, unwaveringly dedicated to the preservation of a life, until two ambulances arrived. Ripping open her shirt, they shocked her heart. In the minutes succeeding her death, ambulance officers restarted her heart three times, her pulse stopping and starting, fitful, like the traffic lights ignored by the ambulance en route to save her life.

Dying three times and surviving is an extraordinary feat, but, by some stretch of a miracle, Melissa was revived. It seems ‘third time lucky’ isn’t folklore after all.

After having relayed a story of such unimaginable trauma, Shania, still, stirring her coffee and dunking her strawberries, on account of our dessert filled meeting, draws in an elongated breath.

“Reliving that must be hard,” I say.

“I’m fine with talking about it now,” she responds, and I am undoubtedly convinced by her affirmation.

Two weeks later, Mellissa was roused from her induced coma, disoriented and lacking memory of the ordeal.

“She had a hole in her Aorta, so not all of the necessary blood was getting to her heart, making it weaker and weaker over time,” Shania says.

Having recently quit smoking, lost weight and generally living a more healthy and active lifestyle, Melissa felt as though she was in her prime.

“At the time, I had no idea anything was wrong, but now that I know the symptoms of female cardiac arrest, the signs were there,” Melissa says.

In the eight months following the initial heart attack, she experienced multiple heart attacks in her sleep. These episodes were documented by the defibrillator implanted into her chest, sending signals all the way to Switzerland for analysis of the spikes in activity within her heart.

“I remember waking up some nights and feeling like a horse had collided with my chest” Melissa recalls.

In January of 2017, Melissa received a heart transplant.

“Within two weeks of being put onto the transplant list, mum was told to pack her bags because she was getting a new heart” says Shania.

Melissa was one of the first recipients of Heart in a Box. A revolutionary medical advancement which allows the donor heart to continue to beat throughout the transport process. So, it was, she laid on the operating table before her new heart had even arrived at the hospital. Her surgeons waited, ready, for the call that told them to pick up their scalpels.

“It ended up going really well,” says Shania, not touching on how she must have felt knowing there could be the possibility of losing her mum again.

In the first year following her heart transplant, Melissa’s life was plagued by doctors’ appointments. Now, she’ll attend check-ups for the rest of her life, unable to avoid the downing of fourteen medications in the morning and thirteen in the evening, for these medications are her life line.

“Some days are good, some are bad. I constantly worry about getting sick, because if I get an infection, my body can start to attack my heart. Its seen as a foreign object, something that doesn’t belong,” Melissa says.

When I asked Shania about her appreciation of Joel and his efforts in saving her mother, she said, “I’m so grateful. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t be here. He doesn’t understand how much he did for her, because of him she gets a second chance. He’s the reason my family isn’t broken.”

On 31stJanuary 2018, Melissa was cleared of any issues with her new heart. Now, she could take her daughter on the long-awaited trip of a life time, to Disneyland California. The pair celebrated Melissa’s new heart and lease on life with the perfect trip for two girls obsessed with Mickey Mouse.

“I have realised life is short and I don’t want to put anything off until tomorrow,” Melissa says.

“Mum has a whole new perspective on life. What happened lit a fire under her. She doesn’t want to die tomorrow without saying she did something spectacular,” Shania says.