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Army wife dies before chance at experimental treatment in London

December 28, 2013 Updated: December 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Caption +
Melissa Klein, 21, rests on a couch Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, inside her Fort Carson home. Klein suffered from mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalopathy, a rare genetic disorder with no known cure. She died from complications of the disease on Friday. Melissa received life-sustaining fats, carbohydrates and proteins through a port in her chest. The thought of dying "is terrifying", she had told The Gazette.

When Melissa Klein died, she was holding her husband's hand.

John Klein was there at the beginning.

He was there at the end.

She died like she lived, fighting, wrestling, arguing with the rare genetic condition that threatened her daily.

Melissa died at about 10:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Hospital from complications following surgery to remove a port in her chest that had become infected, John said.

The port was her lifeline, through which she received a mix of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

The Army wife's plight was described in a series of Gazette stories and blogs in recent weeks.

"Her heart stopped three times," John said. "She was resuscitated. She was asleep through all of it and it was just going to keep happening and the time between resuscitations was just getting shorter."

The first time Melissa was brought back, she remained alive for about three hours, he said.

The second time, she was alive for about an hour and the third time, 20 minutes.

"The fourth time her heart started to stop, I told them to just let her go," John said. "I sat with her until she was gone."

Melissa didn't deserve anything that she went through, he said.

"Now that she has passed on, she doesn't have to suffer any more, doesn't have to feel that pain any more and I'm kind-of happy for that, but she will be missed by a lot of people," He said.

John announced her passing with a simple message at 10:34 p.m. on his Facebook page, where people followed her fight.

"RIP Melissa N. Klein," he said. "We all loved you so much. I'll miss you."

His posting was followed by 26 other comments, some within minutes.

"There are no words," said Chelsey Keasler. "I am so sorry, John."

Said Sam Bostick from Rome, Ga., where John and Melissa are from: "she will be missed john come home son come home."

Melissa suffered from a genetic disorder with no cure called mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalopathy.

Among the symptoms she suffered through were neuropathy, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hearing loss, abdominal pain and extreme weight loss.

She was not expected to make it past the age of 30. She didn't. She died at 21.

Her death comes at a point of high hope.

Melissa and John had raised enough funds from donations to travel to London for an experimental treatment that could have extended her life and erase some of the symptoms.

Called erythrocyte encapsulated thymidine phosphorylase, the treatment is designed to repair the molecular defect that causes the condition.

Of the treatment, Melissa said in a story in The Gazette: "I want to try everything I can to prolong this terrible situation. I want to go places. I want to see things. I want to do things."

For that story and a video, click here.

On Saturday, John, a specialist stationed at Fort Carson, said he was looking into funeral arrangements.

He said he hoped she could be either buried or cremated in Rome, Ga.

That's where they met. He was 15; she was 16.

"We had a mutual group of friends that we hung out with in the mornings before school started," he said. "I liked Melissa, but one day she just stopped flirting with me like she had lost interest."

So he dated her friend for awhile, but always remembered Melissa.

When they finally did begin to date, he asked her why she seemed to quit liking him.

"She said that her friend had called dibs on me and she didn't want to have a fight with her," John said.

"Her dad told her no boyfriends until she graduated. I told her I would wait. We had been together for over six years this month and been married for over three in November."

He was hooked, he said, by "the way she smiled."

"She just looked so happy and I miss that the most," John said. "It was like she could light up the whole room with her smile, for me, anyway."

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