Malori Maddox first woke up at Zale Lipshy University Hospital in Dallas a week after her life-saving surgery in Wichita Falls.
The first thing nurses asked her: “What is your name?”
Malori looked at her mother, Sarah Maddox, and said, “Sarah.”
Next question: “When were you born?”
In a voice barely more than a whisper, Malori said, “1972,” the year her mother was born.
Marray Maddox leaned toward his wife. “It’s OK,” he said. “We can teach her her name.”
Malori’s journey was far from over, but hearing her voice, even saying the wrong answers, filled her family with a flood of relief.
Unable to sleep
Sarah Maddox didn’t sleep until three days after Malori’s surgery. She blew up two air mattresses in the Neuro ICU chapel at Zale Lipshy, where the Maddoxes made camp with blankets and food, but didn’t lay down. If she shut her eyes, she dozed in short spurts on sofas or chairs. Otherwise, she was wired with worry for her daughter.
Maci Maddox, Malori’s younger sister, did not eat all Wednesday, the day after her sister’s emergency surgery in Wichita Falls. Her parents were looking at Malori’s new x-rays when nurses knocked on the door. Maci had fainted in the hallway. The nurses brought her a snack and juice, but she was still white as a sheet and very weak.
For those first three days, everyone who visited Malori had to wear scrubs as a precaution, since her body was susceptible to infection.
The limit was two people in her room, but between family, friends, and teammates, Malori usually had closer to six or seven visitors at a time.
Malori was covered in tubes: three IVs, a ventilator, a pick line, a feeding tube, a brain drain, and an a-line. Her head was halfway shaved and vulnerable where part of her skull was still removed. The skull piece would stay sewn in Malori’s abdomen so it would stay viable for her final surgery to remove the ruptured AVM that threatened her life.
The family read her Bible verses and prayed over her. Though Sarah was too afraid to touch her fragile head, she held her daughter’s hand and spoke to her often.
Tyler Rogers, Malori’s boyfriend, and Maci slept in their scrubs in chairs beside the bed.
The nursing staff at Zale Lipshy did neuro-checks on Malori every hour to make sure she was responding well to treatment and
there were no re-bleeds in her brain. They checked her eyes and wiggled her toes. They ensured her blood pressure and vitals were stable. Her temperature was high, but that didn’t necessarily mean she had an infection.
On Friday, 72 hours after Wichita Falls, Dr. Babu Welch told the family, “She’s not out of the woods, but she’s trending in the right direction for recovery. We don’t know what deficits she’ll be left with, but she may recover.”
After hearing his words, Sarah and Marray finally felt OK to sleep. The two took turns sitting with their daughter and sleeping.
Others come to Dallas
Bailey Wilbanks, Malori’s friend from high school, arrived in Dallas and stayed until the early morning. Her mom had to make her go to the hotel and sleep. It was hard for her to see Malori looking so lifeless. It didn’t seem real. Though she had to return to school at Texas A&M, she made six trips to Dallas to see her friend.
Kelsey Miller, another of Malori’s high school friends, had an interview Friday for occupational therapy school. Seeing Malori unconscious in that hospital bed only motivated her more. She wanted to see someone help Malori go back to her daily activities. And she wanted to do the same for others.
After the Lubbock Christian University Lady Chaps volleyball team arrived back at LCU early Wednesday morning Nov. 11, the team gathered to meet at 11 a.m. Coach Jennifer Lawrence suggested the team avoid class because of the inevitable questions and uncertainty. No one went to chapel, no one went to class. Hardly anyone slept.
Together, the team decided to forfeit the Thursday Heartland Conference game against Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Paul Hise, the director of athletics at LCU, agreed it would be OK to forfeit. The consequences didn’t matter to the team; it would only count as a loss. Hise and Josh Stephens, LCU dean of students, offered the team counseling.
“It’s OK if you don’t go to class today,” Coach Lawrence told them. “Do what you need to do: go to Dallas, go home, whatever you need to do.” Coach Lawrence and Mallory Powell, Malori’s roommate, flew to Dallas that afternoon.
More of the team headed out to Dallas that day. As soon as they parked at Zale Lipshy, they gathered in a circle to pray. The world went quiet and the wind picked up.
That night, they attempted to have a sleepover in the waiting room. Maci joined them, but they told her she first really needed a shower. Then they made sure she was running on coffee and took her out shopping. Maci felt like it was a sleepover on a school day.
They stayed there until they were told they weren’t allowed, and had to find hotel rooms nearby.
The team stayed through the weekend, but never had a chance to talk to Malori.
Struggling with doubt
“I know God says ‘no’ sometimes,” Sarah said one night as she sat on the hospital patio with her brother Stephen Hanks, sister Rachel Martin, Ken and Jana Stephenson, who are Tyler’s aunt and uncle.
Stephen felt Malori would have passed away that night in Wichita Falls if she weren’t going to fight.
But Sarah couldn’t ignore the doubt.
At church the week before Malori’s bleed, her Sunday morning class had talked about marriages that survive the death of a child.
And Sarah felt like she’d failed, like she hadn’t done a good job protecting her daughter. She felt guilt, anxiety, and fear.
Malori had even mentioned before that she’d felt something growing in her head, behind her eyes. Sarah had mentioned an optometrist, but hadn’t pushed the issue. She wondered, if she had done something differently, if her daughter would be in a different situation.
Her family tried to comfort her, to find spiritual encouragement and hold onto their faith.
But it was hard for them too. Though they had all heard stories like Malori’s situation, they didn’t feel like it could be happening to them.
Malori wakes up
A week after Malori’s bleed, the nurses pulled her ventilator so that she wouldn’t get pneumonia. With the sedation off, Malori slowly began to wake.
There was no distinct first memory for Malori, but she got the impression
being in the hospital was fun. There were so many friends to visit with, and her whole family was with her. She didn’t seem to have fear or anxiety as far as the family could tell. Instead, she was gracious and peaceful and kind.
She couldn’t remember a lot of basic information. When her family pointed to the color blue, she told them it was yellow. When asked where she was, Malori would answer, “School?”
But there were certain things she would know.
“Malori,” Marray said slowly, holding up his cell, “this is a telephone.”
“Duh,” she retorted from her hospital bed.
“So, did you forget my middle name now?” Peyton asked his sister hopefully.
To his dismay, she whispered, “Glen.”
She could name a straw and a TV.
But she didn’t know her name.
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 Ken and Jana Stephenson, Malori’s aunt and uncle through marriage and LCU grads and longtime supporters.