Feature Story
Melissa Graham

What should have been a joyous day for Melissa Graham’s family back in 1971 became a race to save her life.

Melissa was only 24 hours old when doctors in the north Alabama hospital where she was born discovered that she had no esophagus. She couldn’t breathe or swallow properly. While her mother recovered from the delivery, Melissa’s father, aunt, uncle and grandmother whisked the newborn into the car and drove to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, making the trip in record time.

Melissa immediately underwent surgery that would create a substitute esophagus. She says she is the first child ever to have the surgery, which required a 54-day stay in the intensive care unit.

Additional hospital stays and two more surgeries followed, but Melissa grew up otherwise healthy, married and has a son who is now in high school. She still experiences some problems with choking and difficulty breathing, but she knows her life was saved by the doctors and nurses at Children’s—and a loving dad who was willing to break the speed limit 38 years ago.