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Upcoming fundraiser to support teen cardiac arrest rehabilitation

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A group of caring individuals who refer to themselves as “The friends of Michele Grant” are hosting “An Evening for Marissa” this Saturday, January 21, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Florin Road Arts and Business Complex located at 2251 Florin Road in South Sacramento. 

On January 27, 2011, Michele Grant’s 15 year old daughter, Marissa, went into cardiac arrest while attending classes at Natomas High School.

Marissa is now on the long road toward rehabilitation and recovery. The fundraiser is to help Michele Grant with the care of her daughter.

Tickets for the event are $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for children. Dinner will be served and there will be a raffle to raise funds to help the family with expenses and treatment.

Joe Pollakoff is universally credited as the driving force behind the fundraiser. Pollakoff came to know Grant while working with her at the State Department of Health Services. 

“If I could choose someone for my mom, I would choose Michele,” stated Pollakoff in a moment of unguarded sincerity.

“Michele has been very strong and very positive throughout this entire ordeal,” said Pollakoff.

Pollakoff has been met with an outpouring of support from many of Grant’s co-workers as well as members of the community who were not previously acquainted with Michele to assist with the planning and organizing of the upcoming event. Nearly everyone who Pollakoff approached did not hesitate to join him in the effort to help the Grant family in their time of need.

Pollakoff is especially thankful for the generosity of Shonna McDaniel, Director of the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Art Museum. When approached by Pollakoff, McDaniel immediately offered the use of the Florin Road Arts and Business Complex facilities to host the event in addition to volunteering to help organize the event. 

Grant was forced to take catastrophic leave from her job as a supervisor at the Department of Health Services in order to assume full time care of Marissa once her vacation time and paid leave was exhausted. 

Keeping the family’s financial life in order has been an ongoing struggle for the divorced mother of four during the past 12 months. It has only been through the generous donations of vacation time by other state workers as is permitted after an employee qualifies for catastrophic leave that Grant has been able keep the family afloat financially.

Although Grant expects to return to work within the next 90 days, there is still a need to secure donations of vacation hours from fellow state workers until such time that she is able to return to work to draw a paycheck.

“I have been brought to tears on many occasions by the overwhelming support I have received from people who know me and those whom I’ve never met, but have contributed some of their vacation hours after hearing about our situation,” stated Grant.

Grant credits her strong faith and the support of her church home, Bayside of South Sacramento, for the spiritual support that was necessary for the family to pull together to make during some very uncertain moments. 

“I know there is a loving God who has helped not just Marissa, but our entire extended family to make it through the times when we feared we might lose her,” said Grant.

Grant’s co-workers have admired her perseverance through what has been an emotionally and financially draining experience. Those who have known Michele or heard of her family’s situation from their friends welcomed the idea of hold a fundraiser to assist the family.

“I see a lot of strength in Michele and I think it comes through her faith,” stated Alexandria Arredondo, a member of the planning committee that is headed by Pollakoff. 

“We all wanted to do something to help Michele get through the situation that she is facing,” said Arredondo.

Many of Grant’s co-workers have known her and her children including daughter Danielle, 18, and twins Alicia and Damarrus, 21, for 10 years or more. 

“We’ve watched them grow up,” said Linda Horne, a member of the Friends Michele Grant committee.

“We all empathize with her situation as a mother, friend, and as a co-worker,” stated Horne. 

January 27, 2011, began as normal day at work for Michele and at school for Marissa who was attending classes at Natomas High School. 

Grant was apparently away from her desk when the initial call came from the school informing her that Marissa had suffered what they believed at the time to be a seizure and had been taken to Sutter Memorial Hospital.

Upon arriving at the hospital and identifying herself, Grant was taken into a room where she was met by Natomas High School vice-principal Angela Herrera. Herrera was accompanied by hospital personnel who informed her that Marissa had aspirated while having a cardiac arrest and her body did not receive oxygen for approximately 8-10 minutes until after the paramedics arrived.

Marissa’s heart had stopped and her organs were in the process of shutting down before the paramedics were able to clear the breathing passageway and use a defibrillator to restart her heartbeat.

Despite the warnings of medical personnel, Grant insisted upon being admitted to the intensive care unit where Marissa lay comatose. Her body had swollen to the point where she was nearly unrecognizable by her mother.

Marissa was connected to various monitoring and life support equipment and was shivering uncontrollably due to the fact that her body was completely iced down to help to reduce the swelling.

The doctors at Sutter Memorial informed Grant that Marrisa had very nearly lost her life. Marissa’s brain was swollen and had been damaged on both sides, her lungs were filled with fluid, and her heart had been weakened by the cardiac arrest. 

The doctors insisted that they would do everything they could, but that it was a “wait and see” situation. After the first four days while still in a coma, Marissa was transferred to Kaiser Roseville where the Grant family belonged as members.

It was apparent to observers from the beginning that Marissa’s youth relative good health would be the determining factors in her recovery. 

The first milestone in Marissa’s recuperation was when she woke up from her coma approximately one week after her cardiac arrest. The next major event occurred two weeks later when Marissa was taken off the respirator and she was able to breathe on her own.

It was a great relief to all when Marissa was able to respond to simple commands to move or blink her eyes and give a thumbs up or down sign.

The effects of the cardiac arrest left Marissa with impaired mobility and function of her extremities. The left side of her body is more severely weakened much like an individual who has suffered a stroke.

Marissa’s rehabilitation therapy began while she was in the hospital with meeting various goals such as being able to sit up for 30 minutes a day. After a steady improvement over the course of her first month, Marissa was transferred to Kaiser Vallejo on February 28, 2011, for six weeks of occupational therapy.

While at that facility Marissa continued to learn how to use her body. She was relearning basic motor skills such as standing, walking, and getting dressed which had become difficult due to her loss of balance. Fine motor skills such as grasping and stirring had also become problematic due to her impairments. The rehabilitation also included speech therapy.

Marissa’s medical history includes sporadic episodes of fainting that began when she was 8 years old. Every time it would occur, Michele would take Marissa to the doctor and get thoroughly checked out for abnormal brain function and heart irregularities. The tests would come back with normal results and the doctors were unable to pinpoint a cause of the fainting spells.

It has only been after a battery of sophisticated tests by some of the best physicians available in Northern California, that doctors diagnosed Marissa with Long QT syndrome (LQTS), a congenital disorder that is very difficult to detect and is known to cause cardiac arrest and seemingly inexplicable sudden death by natural causes.

As a result of the diagnosis, Marissa underwent surgery on May 31, 2011 at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, where a pacemaker/defibrillator was placed in her heart.

Although Marissa is still confined to a wheelchair, she has processed steadily in her rehabilitation and recovery. The Natomas school district assessed Marissa and developed an individual education plan (I.E.P.) that is tailored to her needs and limitations. 

As might be expected, there have been some difficulties during the rehabilitation process. Michele indicates that sometimes Marissa gets depressed and is easily fatigued if faced with too much activity.

As a former volleyball player and honors student who had already researched and investigated programs for a future career as a pediatric nurse, Marissa has had an understandably tough time adjusting to her new reality. She has indicated to Michele that she would just like to “get the old Marissa back.” 

Marissa has to endure a steady routine of therapy along with up to 10 hours a week of private instruction with two “delightful” teachers according to Grant.

Michele has not pushed to have Marissa return to the Natomas High School campus as she has not yet indicated a desire to reunite with friends.

“Marissa has the option to make those decisions when she is ready,” stated Grant. 

“I have faith that Marissa will grow in her acceptance and allow those who know and love her to show how much they really care,” said Grant.

It is anticipated that Marissa must continue with the rehabilitation process for a minimum of four years. It is unknown just how far or fast she will improve. However, Michele is extremely thankful that her child pulled through because so many people who have gone through similar circumstances did not make it. 

Anyone who is interested in attending this fundraiser, donating vacation time to Michele Grant, or simply desires to make a financial contribution to assist Marissa in her rehabilitation may contact Joe Pallokoff at (916) 801-3673 or via email at j.pollakoff@gmail.com or Michele Grant at (916) 501-5917 or via email at chelleg510@gmail.com.

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