Vinton mom gets a ‘second chance’

Melisa Coburn at home with her kids
Melisa Coburn at home with her kids

In July 2013, Melisa Coburn was struggling to catch her breath. She assumed it was bronchitis that was making it difficult to keep up with her toddler and 4-month-old baby. 

But a visit to a local emergency room revealed a pulmonary embolism, a potentially serious blockage in one of her lung’s pulmonary arteries.

She was prescribed an anticoagulant to dissolve blood clots and sent back to her home in Vinton, Iowa. But two months later, she was hospitalized, spending three days on a Heparin drip. 

In February 2014, Coburn arrived at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics with a blood clot in the superior vena cava, one of the large veins that carries deoxygenated blood to the heart. She was hospitalized for 16 days, underwent thrombolytic therapy, and was diagnosed with lupusand chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension—a unique form of pulmonary high blood pressure in which tiny blood clots can travel to and become stuck in the lungs. 

Coburn’s heart was working harder to oxygenate her blood, and her breathing difficulties worsened. Walking more than 10 steps or going up a flight of stairs left her breathless and exhausted, and she often relied on an oxygen tank away from home or on Iowa’s humid summer days. 

For the next four years, Coburn had frequent doctors’ appointments to manage her medication and was hospitalized an additional four times due to blood clots. During that time, she often relied on her husband and parents to help care for her children. 

In February 2017, her care team at UI Hospitals & Clinics suggested a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy to remove the blood clots in her lungs. In May 2018, UI cardiothoracic surgeon Jay K. Bhama, MD, led a multidisciplinary team to complete the procedure. 

Coburn, now 29, recalls the exact moment she realized how the procedure changed her life. 

“A few weeks after my surgery, I watched a friend win a race, and I easily kept up with everyone as they walked down to congratulate him,” she says. “I remember trying that same thing a year before and getting physically sick because it was so hard for me to breathe.” 

The surgery restored Coburn’s pulmonary blood pressure to normal levels. She no longer requires an oxygen tank but will remain on anticoagulation medication for the rest of her life. 

“I feel like I got a second chance because I can do and enjoy everything now,” she says. “And my 7-year-old and 5-year-old are so excited because they have a mom that can actually do stuff with them now.”

Vinton, Iowa