The Chabad of Oceanside hosted a Challah Bake on Sept. 11, to not only welcome the Jewish High Holy Days, but also to raise money for 2007 Oceanside High School alumna Melissa Hunter, 34.
Hunter gave birth to her second daughter, Zoey, on June 17, at Morristown Medical Center, in New Jersey. Just five days later, Hunter went into severe septic shock, and was given extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, treatment to avoid vital organ failure. After having been on life support, she is now rehabilitating.
Hunter, who grew up in Oceanside, earned a degree in marketing at American University in Washington, D.C. After college, she lived in Brooklyn, and then moved to Jersey City and, last year, to Randolph, New Jersey. She and her husband, Nick, were married in November 2019, and had their first child, a daughter, Nora, on Sept. 16, 2020.
A Randolph community member started a GoFundMe campaign for the Hunters, and as of press time it had raised more than $162,000. More than 150 women attended the Challah Bake, and all of the proceeds from the event and raffles were donated to the family as well.
Hunter’s mother, Deborah Smith, and her husband, Dennis, are members of the Chabad, and have lived in Oceanside for 30 years. Rabbi Levi Gurkov, the spiritual leader of the Chabad, and his wife, Soshie, have been monitoring the Hunters’ ordeal as well.
“We talked about the idea of doing this Challah Bake, and all these women getting together and using the power of a mitzvah and asking God to help Melissa on her journey to let her know that we really care about her,” Soshie said. “People who knew Debbie pitched in, and some people came who didn’t even know her but heard the story. It was elegant, classy, and all in support of Debbie and her daughter.”
Smith gave an emotional speech at the event, detailing her family’s experience over the past three months. After giving birth to Zoey, Melissa’s heart rate was high, her blood pressure was low, she was experiencing back pain and could not go to the bathroom when she was released from the hospital. On June 22, she went to a chiropractor, who diagnosed her with a rib flare, but that night she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and hysterectomy. There she went into septic shock, and doctors determined that her bodily systems were failing.
Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a body-wide infection causes dangerously low blood pressure. It is the most severe complication of sepsis, when the body responds improperly to an infection.
The doctors said that Hunter was the sickest patient in the hospital, and she was on the EMCO machine for eight days, went through dialysis and spent a total of 68 days in the hospital. As a result of the septic shock, her extremities were severely damaged, and doctors had to amputate her right leg.
While Smith was in the hospital with her daughter, she was given an Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, diary, which helped her get through the traumatizing experience.
“I was just writing, and logging, and keeping (track of) everything that I could,” Smith recalled. “I realized the writing was keeping me focused, and we