Micro-preemie, pediatric cardiology and eye surgery patient is family's 'miracle'


Mark and Melanie Payne’s story started like a storybook romance. They were college sweethearts. Mark was the captain of the UC Davis men's basketball team. Melanie was the captain of the UC Davis women's volleyball team. They were engaged after college graduation, married in 2012 and then moved to Europe to pursue Mark’s career as a professional basketball player.

Their fairytale ending seemed set for 2017, when they moved back to the U.S., bought a house in El Dorado Hills and Melanie became pregnant with their first child. Her due date was Oct. 27.

But on July 17, Melanie began having contractions. Braxton Hicks, they thought. It had to be. It was way too early.

But Brooklyn Payne had other plans. Their daughter was born July 18 at only 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces.

“We didn’t think she was going to make it,” said Mark Payne. “It was brutal.”

Photo of Payne family
Mark and Melanie Payne with daughter Brooklyn.

A whirlwind of tests followed. Brooklyn was diagnosed with a Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a heart condition that affects 10 percent of all congenital heart anomalies in which the ductus arteriosus, a fetal blood vessel, fails to close after birth. If left untreated, PDA can lead to obstructive pulmonary diseases and heart failure.

UC Davis pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Amy Rahm was called by Mercy San Juan Medical Center to perform a Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) ligation, surgical closure of the vessel, at two-month-old Brooklyn's bedside.

“I have to commend Mercy San Juan Medical Center for reaching out. This was a wonderful collaboration for the sake of patient care,” said Rahm. After a series of tests and with the assistance of the Mercy team, the surgery proceeded without any complications.

The UC Davis Critical Care Transport Team ultimately transported Brooklyn following her surgery and she was admitted into the UC Davis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) since she needed the higher level of care that only a Level IV NICU could provide.

Two eye surgeries at UC Davis Children’s Hospital followed. Brooklyn had ROP (retinopathy of prematurity) in both eyes. Abnormal blood vessels had started to develop which, if not treated, could have caused retinal detachment and blindness. She had laser eye surgery on two separate occasions.

The Paynes spent two and a half months in the NICU at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

“She was so vulnerable,” says Mark Payne. “At first it was overwhelming.”

Soon, though, Mark and Melanie Payne discovered the rhythm of the NICU and found comfort in the members of the NICU health care team. Once a place they hoped they’d never be, the NICU become a place they said they met lifelong friends.

“The nurses were unbelievable,” said Mark Payne. “The way they handle crisis situations is amazing. Plus, they really care.”

In December, Brooklyn was discharged from UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Brooklyn was finally able to go home for the first time. It was the happy ending they had been hoping for.

Today, Brooklyn is 10 months old and is grabbing and giggling; scooting and smiling. She is developmentally on track.

“It’s a miracle she’s here with us and doing so well. It’s unbelievable, really,” said Mark Payne. “UC Davis Children’s Hospital will always be part of our story … one we are proud to tell.”

Related links

"She's the strongest little girl I know: El Dorado Hills couple reflects on preemie miracle" - ABC10

Q&A with Mark and Melanie Payne and Dr. Amy Rahm - Sac&Co.