Malori’s face was whiter than her volleyball jersey. Sarah urged Marray to hurry as they followed the flashing lights of their police escort through the streets of Wichita Falls.
The hospital – a few miles away – felt as if it might as well be all the way across Texas.
Crammed in the backseat of the Maddox family’s Tahoe with her daughters – Maci crying and Malori unresponsive – Sarah tried to keep her nerve. She pressed her fingers to Malori’s wrist and tried to find her pulse.
Gripped with fear, Sarah leaned back toward her husband Marray in the driver’s seat and whispered, “I don’t think she’s alive. We need to go faster.”
Malori couldn’t remember anything since she came off the volleyball court during Lubbock Christian University’s game at Midwestern State University.
But for Sarah, the memories of her daughter sick and hurting on that horrifying drive to the hospital were unforgettable.
The ER was their best option.
Shortly before, Malori’s family made the decision to take her to the emergency room. Malori had left the court mid-game complaining about her head hurting and her vision darkening. Her family had rushed down from the stands to meet her and team trainer Rachel Hunt in the locker room.
Malori sat, rocking back and forth, holding her head. She couldn’t see out of her eye, she told them.
Sarah felt this was more than an average headache – more than a migraine.
As soon as the decision was made, Marray left to get the car.
As Sarah watched her daughter rocking and crying, she tried to figure out what could be wrong. She worried Malori might have an aneurism. She retrieved Malori’s things from the court, telling the team she didn’t think it was a migraine and asking for prayers.
By the time Marray drove around with the car, Malori was immobile. Rachel and Sarah struggled to lift her. Kyle Williams, Midwestern’s associate athletic director, came to the locker room to check on the family. He helped Sarah carry Malori down the hall and out to the car. When they got outside, they saw Doug Elder, Midwestern’s soccer coach, and asked him for help carrying her the rest of the way.
Doug had just come from a Chinese restaurant where he’d helped a man who had fallen in front of the restaurant. His head had been bleeding from where he’d struck it, and the fire department and EMS had come.
Doug urgently called campus police to escort the family to the hospital.
Together, they were able to get Malori into the back seat of the car, but she couldn’t move on her own, the pain was so bad. Maci climbed in on the other side of the car.
With the police on their way, Doug told Marray he recommended taking her to Kell West Regional Hospital.
Doug knew both hospitals in Wichita Falls. He felt Kell West was closer and easier to find. He also worried the family might hit more traffic trying to reach the other hospital.
Those few minutes could make a world of difference. And Kell West was smaller with generally a quicker ER response time.
As soon as the police arrived, the family took off for Kell West.
Doug watched them go, shaken after getting two people off to the hospital that evening, went inside to watch the rest of the match.
Inside, the Lady Chaps had little idea what was going on. After Sarah had gotten Malori’s things, the team’s worry had grown. More speculation spread when Rachel rejoined the team. One player, Channing Castleberry, felt like it had to be something more serious than a migraine, but she’d seen really bad migraines before, so she tried to dismiss the concern and focus on the game.
The team gathered to pray at intermission. “Mal’s going to the ER,” Coach Lawrence told them. “It’s bad, and we need to be praying.” She warned them not to say anything about it until they knew more.
After the prayer, they continued playing, but many of the team felt distracted and worried. They didn’t play very well, but felt they had to just play through it and keep praying.
For the Maddoxes, the 4.4-mile drive to the hospital felt like two hours, but was closer to just ten minutes.
Malori’s head rolled around, out of her control, until it came to rest on Maci’s shoulder.
Sarah looked back at the girls from the front seat. “Be praying,” she told Maci.
This was something seriously wrong, she said – life and death.
Two minutes into the drive, Malori began screaming.
Then she began vomiting.
Then she went unconscious.
Sarah unbuckled her seatbelt and crawled between the seats to reach her daughter. Malori was still throwing up, even though she was unresponsive. Sarah supported Malori’s head and scooped vomit out of her mouth so she wouldn’t suffocate.
Sarah spoke to her, stroking her hands and telling her, “God’s got you. God’s got you, baby.”
Sarah told Marray to hurry, but he could only go so quickly behind the police officer.
“Lord, please save my daughter,” he prayed as he tried to focus on driving.
Maci watched worriedly from the seat next to her sister. She’d never seen anything like this. Her eyes were bright with tears.
After several minutes of vomiting, Malori seemed to stop breathing. She got very stiff. Her legs went straight, and her arms curled tightly around Sarah’s.
Maci thought she was dead.
Sarah thought the same. She checked for a pulse in Malori’s wrist. There was only the smallest flutter of a beat, and Sarah wasn’t sure she believed it was there.
“I don’t think she’s alive,” she whispered to Marray. “We need to go faster.”
The policeman escorting the family had a friend in the Kell West ER, nurse Tina Vaughn. When they pulled up to the doors of the hospital, Tina met them with a wheelchair. Since she was rigid and non-responsive, they couldn’t bend her legs. They placed her haphazardly atop the wheelchair and wheeled her in the doors.
“Should I call Tyler?” Maci asked about her sister’s longtime boyfriend, who played basketball at LCU.
“Yes!” Sarah said over her shoulder. “And Peyton.”
Maci held back as they carried Malori further inside, pulling out her phone to call Malori’s longtime boyfriend Tyler Rogers and Malori and Maci’s brother Peyton, who was in school at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Marray and Sarah helped lay Malori on a table, as nurses worked to cut her jersey off and quickly collect her vitals, which were all apparently normal. Tina checked her eyes, noticing that her pupils were blown wide.
“Bag her,” Sarah heard. Tina got Malori on ventilation and an IV.
Within minutes, Malori was wheeled out of their sight for a CAT scan.
They knew their daughter was sick – they were about to find out how bad it was.
The only thing left for them to do was wait and pray.
A little more than a year ago, LCU volleyball player Malori Maddox almost died in Wichita Falls after suffering a massive brain bleed. Her story has been told in various media, but the Maddox family wanted to make sure it was told as God’s story. The family spent a number of hours meeting with LCU’s Marketing and Communications Department to tell this story in a way that would further God’s Kingdom. Each chapter is written in narrative, much like a novel. Accompanying each chapter are devotional questions and prayer recommendations (see below) for readers to use based on the chapter’s theme. Each chapter will appear on LCU’s website every week, except for the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
By Sarah Maddox, Malori's mother