Hawaii Heart Patient Recovers

Tivaini Tatofi
Tivaini Tatofi

By Paul Drewes

SAN DIEGO (KHNL) -- A Hawaii family returns to the islands with an early Christmas present, a new lease on life for their little loved one.

Melenaite Tatofi seems like your typical ten-year-old.

"She dance hula, she sings in the choir," said her father Tivaini.

But when asked to perform for the camera, she turns shy.

"Do you know a Christmas song?"

"No," said Melenaite, eliciting laughter from her family.

Her mom and dad can smile now, but they have also shed plenty of tears.

Those tears come as Tivaini recalls the heartache.

"I told my wife, I'd rather die first then see what happened to her," he said.

What happened was another heart surgery.

Melenaite's fourth major one, since a congenital heart condition was spotted before she was born.

"She started off as a newborn with a valve operation, she got her valve replaced," said Dr. John Lambert, Melenaite's surgeon.

Other surgeries followed, until a heart-stopping moment for her and her family this month.

"She essentially had a heart attack on Maui, her heart had outgrown her valves," said Dr. Lambert.  "Her heart was stressed and she had an episode with chest pain."

So Melenaite returned to the mainland for a risky 14-hour surgery to replace two of her valves and revise her pacemaker.

"Hopefully we've given her 10 years or more of operation free life," said Dr. Lambert.

But just to be returning home together to the islands is enough for the Tatofi family.

"The joy, now knowing, we are going to have a good Christmas for my family," said Tivaini.

But before she goes, this little girl does have "one" thing to say to the surgeon who helped save her life.

"Thank you," she said, giving her heart helping doctor a hug.