International model cheated death
TRAILBLAZING Brisbane model Madeline Stuart will return to work in March after beating the odds when doctors said she would likely die following open heart surgery.
The 22-year-old, who has Down syndrome, spent 26 days - 11 of those in intensive care - at The Prince Charles Hospital after she underwent the operation to repair a crucial valve in her heart that had become enlarged in early December.
Her mum Rosanne, who did not leave Madeline's side, said she had never been as scared and she was when doctors told her Madeline "wouldn't make it through the night" when they were unable to regulate her heart rate after it rocketed to 250 beats per minute a week after the operation.
In the days following, her resting heart rate, which Rosanne said was usually in the low 50s, jumped between 115 and 120 as they tried to restore her normal rhythm.
"The night she actually went back into intensive care, they had (earlier) said she was doing amazing and she should be going home on day seven. Then they said she wouldn't even make it through the night," Rosanne said.
"She could hardly breathe, sweat was pouring off her, she was almost unconscious and then crying out because she was so terrified.
"All I could do was watch her and I can't explain it the terror I was feeling and the feeling I had in my stomach. Even thinking about it now, I feel like I'm going to throw up."
Rosanne, a single parent who also manages Madeline's career, said she struggled with being forced to imagine life without her "best friend".
"She has been my companion for 22 years, we don't leave each other's side - everything I do in life is about Madeline, my work is her career, my social life is her social life," she said.
"I cannot imagine life without her, there would be no Rosanne, you can't separate us, she really is my oxygen."
Incredibly, Madeline was able to make a full recovery after she underwent a procedure called a cardioversion and had temporary pacing wires inserted, with her heart regaining a normal rhythm 10 days later. Five days after having the wires removed, she was finally able to go home on January 4.
"I've spent every night of her life going to bed worrying about her heart and now I don't have to. To know it is repaired, I feel like I've won the Lotto," Rosanne said.
With Madeline's defect having been repaired to a better standard than doctors thought would be possible, she will likely never have to undergo heart surgery again.
It's a thought Rosanne said flooded her with a sense of relief given the difficult nature of the decision to go ahead with the operation to begin with.
"She's a 22-year-old woman, she has rights and I believe in her rights - what she wants to do is what she wants to do and if she doesn't want to, she doesn't. So, for the first time in her whole life, I had to ignore her requests and make the decision for her and I felt like I was taking away her rights," Rosanne said.
"If we hadn't gone through with the operation the doctors said she could be dead in five years but if she died on the operating table, that's five years we would have lost and that would have been on me."
While Madeline required a wheelchair for outings during her first week back at home, she is now back at the gym and has started a cardio rehabilitation program.
After three months of recovery, she will be back on the road in March, appearing as part of a special breakfast panel and meet and greet in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne before heading to Jakarta, Indonesia, for a runway show for designer Alleira Batik.
Rosanne said Madeline, who has walked in more than 100 fashion shows around the world and appeared in a global campaign for Diesel alongside the likes of Nicki Minaj and Lindsay Lohan, is raring to go back to work after being forced to cancel contracts to return for New York, Paris and London Fashion Weeks for the surgery.
"It's emotionally hard at the moment because she is frustrated and wants to be out working because she's not the sort of person who wants to slow down," Rosanne said.
"But Madeline is on the mend are there are only positive things ahead.
"If she was my little pocket rocket before, well I don't know what I am in for now - she is incredibly excited and we're going to be doing some really big things this year.
"I wanted her to be this strong, independent woman and I'm so proud of her. I think she will still be doing this (modelling) when she is 35."