Without missing a beat

Teen who survived a heart attack 9 months ago urges classmates to learn CPR

Nearly nine months ago, first responders saved Reese Marlenee’s young life.

Last week, thankful to be alive, Marlenee welcomed rescuers to her high school to teach students the same lifesaving skills that saved hers.

“It’s important that everybody knows CPR, no matter how old they are,” said Marlenee, watching Valley Regional Fire Authority firefighters and paramedics teach teens the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in 10-minute stations scattered over the gymnasium floor at Auburn Mountainview High School. “It’s important to learn how to do CPR, because I’m 16 and I had a heart attack. You can be 80 or you can be 1 (and) have a heart attack.”

The Nov. 27 heart-awareness event was Marlenee’s DECA class project, and her opportunity to give something back. The VRFA, as it does for communities throughout its jurisdiction, welcomed the invitation, and joined Marlenee to organize the program.

“For her to recover the way that she did and to have the ability and the maturity to put on an event like this speaks a lot about her character,” said VRFA Capt. Ryan Freed, who kept three morning sessions of work stations rotating on time. “It would be really hard for someone her age to be able to reflect back on something like that. It’s trauma, and to actually to put herself out there and be vulnerable for the betterment of fellow students says a lot about her.”

Marlenee has come a long way since March 5 when she collapsed poolside at water polo practice and went into cardiac arrest. Her coach, Jenni Pritchard, and the Auburn School District pool’s well-trained lifeguards quickly came to the fallen girl’s aid, called 911. and methodically performed two-person CPR until emergency personnel arrived within minutes to relieve them.

Medics rushed Marlenee to Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Hospital in 23 minutes.

Three days later, Marlenee underwent six hours of corrective surgery at Seattle Children’s hospital, where doctors discovered she had a heart defect, a condition called ALCAPA (anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery) syndrome. It is a rare, congenital coronary artery anomaly that may cause dangerously poor cardiac function.

“Without CPR, she most likely would not be with us today,” said her mother, Jessica.

This Sunday, with the help of medicine, and the strong support of family and friends, Marlenee celebrates her 17th birthday.

“She is my hero,” said her mother. “I cannot imagine going through what she has and be doing as well as she is. She is a remarkable human and such an inspiration to others.”

Marlenee, a junior, is pulling good grades. Her smile, reluctant in recovery, has returned to light up her face.

She has since returned to the waters, diving and competing in the 50-yard freestyle and 200 freestyle relay for the Auburn Mountainview swim team this fall. She intends to rejoin the Lions’ water polo lineup come spring.

“It was nice,” Marlenee said of reuniting with her teammates. “I did pretty good without having any training (in the freestyle races).”

To show her appreciation and to recognize those responsible for saving her life, Marlenee personally thanked first responders during an April 17 ceremony at the pool. The VRFA extended Life Saving Awards to those who helped revive the girl during the gathering.

Marlenee kept the VRFA in mind when the opportunity came to host a CPR event last week.

Given a broad introductory overview to CPR, many students signed up for a more extensive, three- to four-hour CPR class to be certified in the practice. The VRFA hopes to provide a class for those students who cannot afford to attend one.

The VRFA was glad to visit the school and remind students of the importance of learning CPR.

“We do this as a job, but everybody you talk to, firefighters in general, it’s a passion. It’s not a job to us. It’s what we are meant to do,” Freed said. “We don’t take accolades or rewards for it, we just want to show up and do our job and try to do the job the best that we can.”

Reese Marlenee, a junior at Auburn Mountainview, has recovered from a heart attack last March. She had corrective surgery and takes medication to combat the effects of a rare heart defect. MARK KLAAS, Auburn Reporter

Reese Marlenee, a junior at Auburn Mountainview, has recovered from a heart attack last March. She had corrective surgery and takes medication to combat the effects of a rare heart defect. MARK KLAAS, Auburn Reporter