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Melson: ‘Every day is a little bit better’

After a near-death experience and a long hospital stay in South Korea, Sen. Tim Melson said he expects to return to the Alabama Senate for the early 2024 legislative session. 

“Every day is a little bit better,” Melson, R-Florence, told Alabama Daily News this week about his recovery since experiencing cardiac arrest in late July while he and other Alabama officials were visiting South Korea. “I’m getting there.”

The TimesDaily reported earlier this week that Melson was back to one of his government positions, chairing a Monday meeting of the Lauderdale County Agricultural Authority. Earlier this month, he received a pacemaker at the University of Alabama Birmingham and he’s now doing physical therapy to help build back his stamina.

Melson, an anesthesiologist, said ventricular fibrillation, a dangerous form of irregular heartbeat, caused him to go into cardiac arrest.

Melson spent about two weeks in a South Korean hospital and about five days on different forms of life support. 

“They didn’t think I was going to make it, but when my daughter said, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you’ back, they thought, ‘Wait a minute, he does know what’s going on.”

“(The doctors in South Korea) did some pretty drastic measures for me,” Melson said. “… To see a patient, get their medical history, break through a language barrier and treat them appropriately, that’s a very big deal in an emergency situation.” 

Melson doesn’t remember much of what happened immediately prior to the cardiac arrest.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, does. He said they and other members of the delegation were in a coffee shop near the demilitarized zone after Orr and Melson had climbed a small hill to look into North Korea. 

At first, they thought Melson had overheated, but soon realized it was much more serious, Orr said. Orr estimates he performed CPR on and off for about 30 minutes until medical help arrived. Another member of the delegation located a defibrillator and tried to restore Melson’s heartbeat.

Orr said he’d received CPR training a few times in his life but had never had to use it.

“He took a CPR class somewhere in his life and it paid off for me,” Melson said. “I’m grateful and appreciative. Most people, if they have that training, they don’t panic and they can put it to good use. He did and I’m grateful.”

Orr said he’s glad he was in the right place at the right time, but said he shouldn’t get the praise.

“I would give credit to the Lord, that he’s not finished with Tim yet and Tim still has much to contribute,” Orr said.

Now, Orr said he’s preparing legislation for the 2024 session to require instruction on CPR and the use of defibrillators in high school physical education courses.

“I feel that strongly about it in light of what happened (with Melson),” Orr said. “Tim’s situation brings attention to something that could save someone’s life in four years or 40 years,” Orr said.

Orr has discussed the bill with Melson.

“I think it’s great and (Orr) ought to be the one to bring it,” Melson told Alabama Daily News.

A new law sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, requires high school coaches to complete sudden cardiac arrest training.

Meanwhile, Melson plans to be in the Senate when it convenes next February.

“Unless something else happens, and I don’t foresee that, I’ll be there,” Melson said. “They say my heart is better now than before I went to Korea.”

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