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Just a fever...or something else?

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 20 2012 03:40:57 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 02 2013 04:27:56 PM CST
WFMZ-TV's Melanie Falcon reports following Hurricane Sandy

WFMZ-TV's Melanie Falcon reports following Hurricane Sandy

It was a cool October day, perfect for running, so I leashed up my two dogs and set out. We ran 4 miles, the longest in a while. Back at home, I poured the pooches a bowl of water, got myself a glass and sat on the couch to catch my breath. I started to feel cold, shaky, and more tired than I should have. I laid down and continued to shake but just assumed maybe I pushed it too hard or maybe it was the cooler temperatures and my body wasn't used to it. After a bit, I felt better and wrote it off as no big deal.

Within the next few days, it happened again; not after running this time. I got cold, then slightly shaky, then hot. I realized I probably had a fever, so I took some acetaminophen and felt better, but it happened again a day or two later. This time, it was the day before Hurricane Sandy; I was folding laundry and knew I didn't feel right. I was shaking more than the times before and freezing. My fiancé and I decided to go to the ER.

The nurse took my vitals and confirmed I had a fever: 103.1. The doctor checked me out and couldn't really find anything else wrong. I didn't have a cough, runny nose, or anything else, so they told me to control the fever, keep an eye out for other symptoms, and let me go.

The next day, Hurricane Sandy started making her way towards the northeast. I anchored a few hours of special coverage with my co-anchor Jim Vaughn and felt all right. I warned him about my fevers and my little ER visit the night before, that way he knew just in case I started feeling bad again, but I was fine.

The next morning, I was out in the remnants of Sandy reporting all over the Lehigh Valley. Body temperature still regulated by acetaminophen, I was focused and made it through the rainy, windy morning with no problems. Despite having no power at home for the rest of the week and a busy reporting schedule, my temperature stayed down and I thought I was in the clear.

Then I got another fever. It started the same way as the rest: extreme chills. After it happened another time or two, I went to my family doctor who suspected the problem could be Lyme Disease. However a blood test for that was negative, as were some other tests he ran on me. He decided I should go see an Infectious Disease specialist. Just the title scared me, but I went and was asked 1,000 questions and had more blood work done, but again, everything came back negative.

The fevers kept coming, my fatigue grew worse, and I kept baffling doctors. Countless more vials of blood work, my first overnight admission to the hospital (which happened to be on Thanksgiving), numerous other tests later, and I was still a mystery case.

A young, active, healthy woman with fevers that continued off and on for five weeks. Something wasn't right. The team of doctors at Lehigh Valley Hospital that was seeing me decided to admit me again for more extensive testing. They knew they needed to figure this out.

I was admitted again on Thursday, November 29th. It was time for yet again more tests. At this point, some of my blood counts were off and doctors were getting concerned. I endured more testing, this time the infamous Lumbar Puncture or Spinal Tap, CT scans, MRIs, X-Rays, and more.

I also had something called an Echocardiogram, basically an ultrasound of your heart, and it was this that clued doctors in to the fact that the problem might be something with my heart. Your aortic valve is supposed to have three leaflets; mine only had two- something I was born with but never knew, and apparently something that can make it easier for infection to get to your heart. It was Saturday by that point and I was hooked up to IVs and heart monitors, with nurses in my room every hour, but still uncertain of the exact diagnosis.

Doctors scheduled a test that would show more detailed pictures of my heart for the following morning. I couldn't eat or drink after midnight in preparation and awaited anxiously for some answers. The test confirmed it was my heart. The aortic valve did, in fact, only have 2 of the 3 parts it should have. There was some type of infection that had made it to my heart, and apparently it wasn't a pretty picture.

There was a flurry of doctors, and now surgeons, in and out of my room. My fiancé was allowed back in and the doctors started to talk about me having "surgery," then left to further discuss amongst themselves. A nurse came in to check on me and asked if I wanted a book with some information about my surgery. I said sure and she handed me a book titled "Open Heart Surgery." I looked at her like she had four heads. Surely, the book was for another patient.

It wasn't. It was for me. The surgeons and doctors explained everything, talked about some options, and decided they wanted to operate as soon as possible. The operating room had already begun to be prepared.

I barely had time to be nervous and say my "I love you's." Then I was wheeled into the OR. There must have been a dozen doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists in there, and it was freezing. I was moved to a heated bed of sorts, asked a few questions, and the last I remember, slowly drifted off to sleep.

(Look for the next part of Melanie's story next Saturday, December 29 on WFMZ.com.)