Listen to and read Maddy’s story below:
“She’s a warrior,” says Rachelle Lavalier of her confident and spirited daughter, Maddy. “She doesn’t have any barriers, and that’s an important part of who she is.” Lavalier calls 8-year-old Maddy the bravest person she knows—her hero.
Even as a baby, Maddy proved that her vibrant personality, rather than her medical condition, would shape the course of her life. You see, Maddy has spina bifida. But she also has so much more. Extraordinary compassion. A keen and often-sarcastic sense of humor. The uncanny ability to engage with everyone she meets.
“Maddy has this way of drawing people in,” says Lavalier, who calls her daughter her best friend. “She cares about every individual uniquely.”
Further testing revealed Lavalier’s unborn baby would face a host of health concerns, including spina bifida, bilateral clubfeet, and an omphalocele—an abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, liver and other organs develop in a sac outside the body.
Experts Provide Comfort Amidst Uncertainty
Lavalier was just 21 years old when she learned her baby would be a girl. An instant later, the ultrasound technician’s ominous words thrust her into the unknown. “I remember hearing, ‘It’s a girl! And now the doctor’s going to come and talk to you,’” recalls Lavalier.
Transforming Challenges into Opportunities
Maddy underwent three major surgeries immediately after her birth. She also began seeing multiple Gillette specialists, including Partington. “It was easy to trust the experts at Gillette,” says Lavalier. “They had a perfect balance of expertise mixed with love and genuine care about our child.”
Lavalier says the care and encouragement Maddy receives at Gillette has helped build her confidence. “Without Gillette I don’t know that Maddy would be the individual she is,” she adds. Today, Maddy happily answers questions from her peers about her condition. She helps them understand her wheelchair, for example, by likening it to her ‘legs.’
Maddy sees her condition as an opportunity to spread a message of empowerment. “Maddy once told me, ‘I’m really glad God created me this way,’” says Lavalier. “She wants to be a voice for other kids who think they can’t do things. She wants to show them everything is possible.”
It’s Okay to Ask
As she’s grown older, Maddy has wanted to advocate for children who have disabilities. She recently had an opportunity to do just that, by reading It’s Okay to Ask to a group of elementary school children in South St. Paul. It’s Okay to Ask is a book made for children by Gillette, that introduces five children who have disabilities or complex medical conditions. Over the course of the story, you see that children who have disabilities (like all children), love to read, play, tell jokes, and make friends. As you get to know the characters in the book and learn that it’s okay to ask questions, you will discover that everyone is more alike than you might think and that people of all abilities can be friends.
Maddy did an excellent job and it’s safe to say that all the children in the room learned a valuable lesson.