A basketball miracle

Haley Madsen, an Acorn All-Star, overcomes serious medical setbacks



Simi Valley High girls’ basketball player Haley Madsen poses for a portrait at Simi Valley High School on May 31. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

In her darkest, most frightening moments, Haley Madsen always knew one thing.

She was a basketball player.

Sitting in her hospital bed after waking up from a coma, Madsen could not spell her own name— but she could shoot a crumpled up piece of paper into a trash can.

“Basketball has always been my love,” Madsen said. “I definitely had doubts, but I told myself I was going to play again. After everything I’ve been through, I knew that if I wanted to, I could do it.”

• • •

Madsen graduated from Simi Valley High this week.

Earning that diploma is the latest triumph for the 18-year-old Pioneer girls’ basketball standout.

During her freshman year of high school, Haley, 15 at the time, and her mom, Shannon, visited a local restaurant.

At home that night, the meal did not agree with Haley, who started feeling unbearable pain. The Madsen family drove to Simi Valley Hospital, but Haley needed an emergency transport to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

She was given antibiotics to treat her severe infection, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli. Doctors meant well, but the treatment backfired.

“You aren’t supposed to give antibiotics to a patient with Shiga toxin,” said Dave Madsen, Haley’s father. “Nurses didn’t know this because this kind of poisoning is only really found in Third World countries. They were trying to help her.”

Shortly after being admitted to Children’s Hospital, Haley suffered status epilepticus, an extreme seizure that lasted five straight days. The seizure essentially fried Haley’s brain, and the medical staff put her into an induced coma for 21 days. The Pioneer went on life support.

Dave recalled the emotional trauma during those excruciating weeks.

“They basically said that I could unplug her whenever I was ready,” Dave said, “but I knew I’d never be ready.”

After conducting his own research, Dave said he convinced Haley’s doctors to proceed with an experimental treatment. The father’s persistence might have saved his daughter’s life, but the young woman did not walk away unscathed. All of Haley’s organs had shut down. She had become diabetic and had been brain dead for a dangerous period of time.

Haley woke up in a vegetative state.

She was in a fight for her life.

• • •

The teenager had to relearn basic functions, including walking, talking and swallowing.

Perhaps the most frightening part? She did not know who she was.

She had no idea where she lived or if she had family and friends. She had no memories of her own life upon opening her eyes in a hospital bed. She was starting from scratch at 16.

Haley began the uphill climb to her recovery. Dave and Shannon, a cancer survivor, never left their daughter’s side. Haley’s younger sister, Faith, who also plays basketball for Simi Valley, supported Haley throughout the long recovery.

“This journey has been rough, but this is just the beginning,” nurses told her dad.

“How can anything possibly be harder than this?” Dave thought.

Haley eventually began to regain some memories during the early stages of her rehabilitation.

The Pioneer said she remembered making progress at that time. She remembered who she was: She was resilient, and she was tough. That part of her had never left.

She was driven to recover, get healthy and play basketball again.

“It was hard being told ‘no’ all the time and wanting to do normal 16- and 17-year-old things,” Haley said. “It was (hard) to watch people do these things while I couldn’t do anything. It was horrible.”

• • •

The Madsen family spent many nights back in the hospital after Haley’s initial release. The teen was still afflicted by seizures and severe pain.

At home, Haley spent hours on speech therapy apps and physical therapy.

“There were definitely a lot of nights of crying,” she said.

Haley said her natural athleticism and background in CrossFit accelerated her physical recovery.

She praised her teachers and family for helping sharpen her mind.

“I’m going to learn and get better. I’m just going to need you to be patient with me,” Haley said.

Haley, who had just made a superhuman physical recovery, made it back to the classroom her sophomore year.

Going back to school so soon was not easy. She not only had to relearn how to add, subtract, read, write and spell, but she had to relearn how to make friends and be a kid. There were times she was discouraged and sad, she said.

But she kept going.

She battled through every class, every homework assignment, every test. She graduated on time with her fellow seniors.

“I worked my butt off to get those grades,” Haley said.

The Acorn All-Star will attend Cal Lutheran University on an academic scholarship.

It’s just one more victory for the Pioneer.

“I really want to be independent,” she said. “I’ve relied on people for so long, and I want to start relying on myself. I’m very excited for that part.”

• • •

Haley made her anticipated return to the basketball hardwood this season.

She had started on varsity as a freshman. She made an impact in the lineup this winter as a hardnosed senior forward and captain.

Haley Madsen is the Acorn’s Inspirational Player of the Year. Yes, the newspaper created the award just for her.

Simi Valley assistant coach Alexa Coubal praised the teen.

“She’s the player you want to have on your team. She is the total embodiment of the word tough,” Coubal said. “I really am in such awe of her.”

Haley said she’s never felt better on the court.

“When I started playing basketball again, I became myself again,” she said. “Basketball brought me back to being me.”

Coubal, who starred on the basketball hardwood at Thousand Oaks High before throwing the shot put and discus for the University of Notre Dame women’s track and field team, shared her favorite memory of Haley: the Pioneer’s first game back.

“She was so excited to be playing that she got a rebound and actually put it up and scored in the wrong basket,” Coubal said with a laugh. “We were just so happy she was out there that nobody cared. It was a really great moment.”

• • •

Haley defies the odds every single day.

“I look at her sometimes and still can’t believe she’s here with us,” her dad said.

The epitome of toughness, Haley went from being brain dead to playing varsity basketball to graduating high school with a 3.6 GPA and earning an academic scholarship.

Her long road to recovery is not over. She’s still on medication and will be for the foreseeable future. She’s hoping to get clearance to get her driver’s license soon.

“I’ve fought so hard to be where I am right now. People don’t really understand that,” she said.

Through it all, Haley stays positive and motivated.

“You’ve gone through all this,” she said, “and you can go through anything.”

Ally Spooner, a former California State University San Marcos women’s soccer player, is working on developing a mental health resource for student-athletes. Follow the Oak Park High graduate’s progress to end the stigma on mental health in sports on Instagram @mindbodysport1.