ST. ALBANS — When Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans senior Maya Mullen, 17, fainted during class in September, her mother, Katie Martin, didn’t think it was anything too serious.
Mullen was taken to Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) by ambulance due to troubling vital signs, but there, the doctors didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“Some people are prone to fainting,” Martin said is what the doctors told her.
However, school nurse Lisa Weaver, who just began at BFA-St. Albans this past fall, remained concerned, and Martin said she was told to bring Mullen to her doctor.
“We went to her doctor, and the doctor said she wasn’t concerned,” said Martin. Mullen was recommended to include more salt in her diet, and that was that.
According to Martin, Weaver still worried about Mullen, but Mullen’s school year progressed along fairly normally until after Thanksgiving break, when she felt too ill to go back to school the first two days.
On that Wednesday, Dec. 3, Mullen tried going back to school, but Martin said she soon received a text from her daughter who said she felt bad. Martin told Mullen to go to the nurse’s office, where Weaver checked Mullen’s vitals.
They weren’t good.
Weaver called Martin with her concerns, saying she thought Mullen needed to go to the emergency room. At the time, Martin felt like this was a bit over the top, but Weaver insisted.
“If you don’t come, then I feel like I need to call the ambulance,” is what Martin said Weaver told her.
As it turns out, Weaver’s actions may have been the difference between life and death for Mullen.
When Mullen arrived at NMC, a chest x-ray showed she had a hyperthyroid problem and an enlarged heart. She went to the University of Vermont Medical Center for more tests, and was then brought to Tufts Medical Center outside of Boston.
“Basically, they said Maya had heart failure,” said Martin. Her daughter had lymphocytic myocarditis – essentially, Maya had lost 95 percent of her heart function.
Weaver, said Martin, saved her daughter’s life.
“If she hadn’t been super insistent with me,” said Martin, “Maya could have been walking to her car to go home – and I hate to say it but – dropped dead.”
Almost three weeks later, Mullen is in steady condition through her stay at Tufts.
“If you look at her, you would never know,” said Martin on Thursday. “She doesn’t look as sick as she is.”
Mullen, who is an honor society-level medical professions student through the Northwest Technical Center, is doing what she can to continue on with her studies. She is, for example, looking at going to radiography school next year.
“We’re in the middle of doing all her applications for that,” said Martin.
On the medical side, Mullen is also progressing. On Friday, Mullen was scheduled to receive an implantable defibrillator, which should allow her to come home for the holidays.
“It’s the bridge before you get a transplant,” said Martin. Without it, Mullen would have had to stay in the hospital another three to six months while she moved up the waiting list for heart transplants.
“I’m hoping she’s going to get out before Christmas,” Martin added, “but I don’t know.”
Knowns and unknowns
It remains a mystery why exactly Mullen’s heart wasn’t working like it should – Martin said doctors don’t know the cause. “She’s 17 and like they said, this is very rare,” she said. “In most cases, you never find out.”
While there are some medical unknowns, there are certain sureties for Mullen and her family. They have, for instance, felt the full support of the community while Mullen recovers.
In addition to receiving a flood of encouraging Facebook messages, Mullen’s sister Devyn, 19, created a “gofundme” account for Mullen medical expenses, which has already almost doubled its $3,000 goal in five days.
Devyn also made “Maya Strong” t-shirts with photos of Mullen with her powder-puff team at BFA-St. Albans, which can still be purchased.
“I have no idea how much this is going to cost us,” said Martin, who is a single mother. “It’s going to be high,” she added, though she also said that as a state employee, she’s been blessed with good health insurance to help cover some of the costs.
If any extra cash is left over after paying the medical bills, it will go to a good cause.
“Whatever is not used for medical expenses, we can then use that money to support other heart [operations],” said Martin, adding that there aren’t as many resources for heart patients as there are for, say, cancer patients.
In her interview, Martin stressed that she wanted less attention focused on the money-raising efforts for Maya and more emphasis on those who have helped her.
“I want to say thank you to all the people who have been supportive and have reached out,” Martin said. “It feels fantastic.”
Weaver, Mullen’s school nurse, also received an enormous amount of gratitude from Martin and her family. Though Weaver couldn’t speak to the Messenger about Mullen due to student confidentiality rules, she said on Friday, “[Maya’s] a wonderful student and we wish her the best.”
Martin said of Weaver, “She’s definitely my family’s hero. I really feel like she saved my child’s life.”
Anyone interested in contributing funds or buying a t-shirt to support Maya Mullen can visit www.gofundme.com/mayastrong or call Devyn Mullen at (802) 881-5902 or Staci Tearo at (802) 498-3880.