Maddie Urhahn is a typical college freshman at Missouri State University – she studies, joined a sorority, is getting involved in campus ministry, exercises and hopes to find a few other extra curriculars as time goes by. But she possesses an a typical college freshman attitude of “don’t take anything for granted,” because of the life-threatening experience she had in high school.
Maddie was a year-round high school athlete at Notre Dame Regional High School in Springfield, MO, having played softball, basketball and soccer from a very young age. Then during soccer season her freshman year, she fainted on the field.
Although she had been seeing doctors about dizzy spells, this fainting episode took things to the next level of testing. “I had to wear a heart monitor and they figured out that my heart would just stop beating sometimes,” she says.
The monitor revealed that Maddie’s abnormality involved some kind of electrical problem in Maddie’s heart and it would stop beating for as long as nine seconds with no apparent explanation. She was told she would need surgery to implant a pacemaker – at 14. “It was a shock,” she says. ‘It freaked me out, mainly because I didn’t know if I would be able to keep playing sports. That was my main concern.”
But true to her competitor’s nature, she continued to play summer softball on a traveling team in the months leading up to her surgery, even participating in a game the day prior to the operation at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Her doctors would not confirm whether she’d be released to play sports again until after the surgery, but things went well enough and she was released with no restrictions to play again when her sophomore year commenced.
“Those weeks when I was sitting out, waiting to hear if I’d get to play again, I realized that I shouldn’t ever take anything for granted,” Maddie says. “I decided to always give my absolute best to everything.”
Maddie had a great sophomore year in all three sports and was ready to be a starter her junior year when a blood clot in her shoulder sidelined her again.
Blood thinners to break up the clot meant she had to sit the bench – a position for which she was unaccustomed.
“Having that happen to me again, watching my team play without me – the only thing that kept me going was that I had told myself I wouldn’t take anything for granted, that I would remember how lucky I was to be here.”
The blood thinners dissolved the clot, but it returned, so her doctors decided to leave it place and her body created pathways around it. Leaving it meant Maddie would have be very aware of any signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, but it was a risk she was willing to take to remain a competitor. Once again, her doctors gave their blessing and she returned to sports.
When Maddie graduated from Notre Dame in 2016, she had played all three sports all four years of high school.
“I guess when all that started, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say that, so looking back, I’m grateful,” she says. “My teammates and coaches were really supportive and it turned out to be a really good life lesson.”
Today, Maddie continues to have annual checkups with her heart doctor and bi-annual checkups with the technician to make sure her pacemaker is still working properly. She is an athletic training major at Missouri State with plans to attend graduate school for a degree in physical therapy.
“I want to help people and I certainly know what it’s like to be the patient and I think I’ll be able to be an encouragement to patients because of that,” she says.