Dr. Babu Welch rarely gets standing ovations when he comes out of surgery. But the neurosurgeon never had a patient quite like Malori Maddox.
After Malori woke up in Dallas and was stable, she and her family eventually moved out of ICU at Zale Lipshy University Hospital, they went to The Ronald McDonald House. She was not yet ready to have her almost-fatal AVM removed and could not return to Lubbock.
The Ronald McDonald House was where families stay when they need medical help and are away from home to avoid costly hotel bills.
To sister Maci, the stay at the Ronald McDonald House felt like five years.
The room had just two beds and a couch. Sarah slept in a bed with Malori, since Sarah was the most still sleeper – Malori was still missing some of her skull after all. Sarah helped Malori walk to the restroom if she woke up in the middle of the night.
Maci and brother Peyton played Rock, Paper, Scissors each night to decide who slept on the couch and who shared the other bed with their dad, Marray.
“Mind over mattress,” their parents would tell them.
But even the awkward sleeping situation was a bonding experience. The family grew closer. They held a devo every night in their room.
After returning to Lubbock after Malori’s surgery in Wichita Falls, Malori’s Lady Chaps volleyball teammates got back to class and forfeited a Thursday game so they could see Malori.
Kasey Deterding wouldn’t feel at ease until she could see Malori and see the monitors proving she was OK.
After Malori woke, which eased everyone’s minds – she was concerned about one thing when some of her teammates visited: “Did we win?”
Yes, they assured her, they’d won the game in Wichita Falls the night of November 10.
About a week after the forfeit, they were scheduled to play in the Heartland Conference Tournament.
Not everyone wanted to play.
“You can not play,” volleyball coach Jennifer Lawrence told them, “but Malori is gonna be really disappointed in you. Instead, use this game to play for the glory of the Lord.”
They knew they needed to play. They knew Malori would be mad if they hadn’t played.
And Marray and Sarah encouraged them to play.
So they channeled all their emotions on to the court against Newman University.
Stepping out on the court without Malori felt wrong. They’d pinned her other jersey, not the torn one from Wichita Falls, on the whiteboard as a reminder to play for their teammate. Maddie Johnson’s mom made cardboard cutouts of Malori’s head and placed them in the stands.
The Lady Chaps lost to Newman University to end their season.
The Maddox family streamed the game in their room. When the team returned to Dallas again, Malori asked them, “You lost to Newman again? How did that happen?”
As the team shuttled back and forth from Lubbock to Dallas, Marray had included the team as part of the family, as if the Maddoxes had gained 15 daughters through the experience. They visited her room like they were her sisters, and waited in the waiting room with Maci as if part of their immediately family.
“Hey boyz,” Malori greeted them when the team walked in to visit. They were her “Band of Sistahs,” Malori told the nurses.
The first time Malori went to therapy in Dallas, Coach Lawrence went with her.
The therapy process was going to be long and difficult. Malori had to recuperate motor function as well as memory and basic information.
Malori had to relearn colors and basic names for things. It seemed unrelated what she remembered and what she didn’t. She practiced colors with coloring pages. She worked on movement in the hallways and in specific muscle training.
Though at times Malori got frustrated with the process, she still had her signature positive outlook. She sang songs of praise with family and friends. She treated the hospital like a vacation with the people she cared most about. She was so at peace and so hopeful, her attitude became contagious for her family and friends.
Peyton had gone back to school, but he still drove back to Dallas every weekend.
Sarah and Marray took extended leave from work to be with their daughter.
Maci had to go back to school after the first 10 days. She stayed with Malori’s boyfriend Tyler and her Nana at the Maddox house in Lubbock. She’d forgotten her classes and where to go. She was often late because people kept stopping her to ask about Malori. And though she was in school, her mind was always in Dallas with her sister as well.
After a month in Dallas in therapy and Ronald McDonald House, it was time for Malori’s final surgery. The procedure had to be delayed until the inflammation in her brain from the hemorrhage decreased enough to safely operate. But the surgery couldn’t wait too long either, in case of a rebleed.
Malori’s second operation took place on Jan. 6, 2016.
Welch credits Dr. Yogish Kamath from Kell West Regional Hospital in Wichita Falls with saving Malori’s life.
Texas is a big state, but the specialty care is often concentrated in the big cities. The transfer time is crucial. If Kamath had sent her to Dallas without addressing the bleed, Malori may have died. He removed the pressure of the brain and staunched the bleed so Malori could survive the transfer to Dallas.
However, the AVM still needed to be removed and was not a simple procedure. The AVM is a nest of blood vessels, all oddly connected without normal arteries, that put pressure on and draw blood away from the brain. The AVM needs to be removed for the brain to function normally.
Likely Malori’s AVM was there from birth. When the brain can no longer handle the pressure, often around Malori’s age, the hemorrhage starts.
Her hemorrhage had created a place to work. The bleeding tears into the brain tissue, so the body scars off the area to protect the rest of the brain. This allowed Welch to easily see where the injured brain was in comparison to the healthy brain.
First Malori needed an angiogram to get a 3D map of the AVM. He would need to remove the entirety of the AVM, like all the roots of a plant, to ensure it problems wouldn’t return for Malori down the line.
The surgery itself took six to eight hours. Her AVM was close to the surface of her brain – a blessing. Welch didn’t have to dig to reach the mass of blood vessels. After a lengthy and delicate procedure, the blood vessels began to turn purple, signaling they were no longer receiving oxygen.
After removing the AVM, Welch relocated the piece of Malori’s skull from where it had been stored in her stomach by Dr. Kamath. He reconnected it to the rest of her skull with small metal plating and bone cement. Then he closed the scalp.
Malori still had to be monitored for blood pressure to be sure the brain could handle the different flow of blood. But it had gone as well as could be expected.
After the lengthy surgery to remove the AVM, Welch walked out to the waiting room. Normally more people are supposed to wait downstairs, but Malori’s crowd of about 30 insisted on being right there. They were all waiting for Malori and news on the surgery.
“Everything went fine,” he said.
The gathered crowd, relieved, cheered and clapped, rising to their feet to give Welch a standing ovation. He was embarrassed, but impressed by the support for Malori.
As the eldest child, as well as healthy and athletic, it had been hard for the family to understand how this could happen. Welch had worked through it with them – no one can plan for this.
But the community outreach had also made a big difference. Patients and their families talk, form relationships, and open up to each other. Then patients go back to church and encounter other people who have suffered from an aneurism or an AVM. Prayer opens up that line of communication even more.
The standing ovation, and the crowd of support for a single patient, stuck with Welch.
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 Terry Greenberg, founder of Greenberg Media Management, who created the idea for this project working with LCU and has felt incredibly blessed to get to know Malori and her family.