Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Determination and compassion — A student leader’s perseverance through pain

Daily Inter Lake | February 26, 2024 12:00 AM

Madeline “Maddie” Davis is a gracious, poised and articulate Glacier High School senior and aspiring neurosurgeon who wants to help future patients much like she was.

As an aspiring neurosurgeon, the 4.0 student is prepared to be immersed in academia for at least the next decade with the end goal of obtaining a medical degree and doctorate.

“I would both operate like a usual surgeon, but then I also want to do research to help improve spinal surgeries,” Davis said. “I had back surgery almost a year ago and that experience had a really profound impact on me as a person and continues to shape the way I can move and do things.”

Davis recalled starting to feel pain around her freshman year. By her junior year, the chronic pain became debilitating enough to impede the student athlete’s ability to move.

“Almost to the point where I couldn’t walk. Daily activities were very difficult,” she said.

As a captain of the volleyball team who could no longer play, Davis adjusted to serving in a supportive role and focused on skills such as communication.

She estimates spending roughly eight months visiting multiple doctors trying to get a diagnosis and treatment. Treatment mostly consisted of steroid shots and pain management medication. 

“... it was so frustrating day in and day out to kind of just be driven by this intense pain and be told just keep resting. Just keep resting … but I’m tired of resting,” she added.

She finally received a diagnosis of a disc herniation impinging her spinal cord.

“It was actually life-threatening and could have resulted in all kinds of organ issues,” she said.

She got the green light for surgery. Through the downtime during her recovery, she poured her energy and focus into her academics, holding on to the hope of a bright future without pain, drawing strength from her parents’ encouragement.

“There was a period where it truly felt like there was no hope. Like there was no solution,” Davis recalled about her medical journey. 

“I think it opened my eyes to the realities that millions of others face as well. There’s millions of other people in the world who face similar issues, who also face chronic pain where there’s no solution. And in the same way that that masks my ability to serve as a student and as a leader, it masks their ability to serve in their communities, in the workplace — with their kids and their families.”

Although she can’t ride a roller coaster or go bungee jumping, she’s resumed full activity for the most part

 “Besides that, running, hiking, biking, skiing are all generally manageable activities,” Davis said, with continued physical therapy.

She also returned to the volleyball court.

“I’m so incredibly thankful,” she said.

THE EXPERIENCE also defined her career path by having to prioritize health and well-being. 

Davis puts a lot of thought into how she spends her time with much of it in service to others. She tutors classmates, volunteers for DREAM Adaptive, an outdoor recreation program for people with disabilities; is student council senior class president; and is a student representative on the Suicide Prevention Task Force, which serves Kalispell Public Schools. Through the task force, she led a school penny drive that raised more than $1,500 for the local nonprofit Nate Chute Foundation. 

“I think it’s incredibly important for us [students] to be involved in our community,” Davis said.

“The things that we say. The things that we do. The ways that we act have an incredible impact on our community. By prioritizing community health, that is one of the ways that we can help our community flourish,” Davis said.

Davis is also the recipient of the Winslow Nichols Leadership Award nominated by Glacier Activities Director, Student Council Adviser and Assistant Principal Mark Dennehy.

“In my 24 years as an administrator, she ranks right at the top of all students for their contributions to our school and community,” he stated in his nomination letter. “Maddie tackles any task with a friendly and spirited demeanor. Her greatest skills that she possesses are her enthusiasm for service, quality of service, and work ethic.”

The award, which is sponsored by Logan Health, in collaboration with the Daily Inter Lake, recognizes the academic achievement and community involvement of high school students who contribute to improving the lives of others.

As part of the award, honorees choose a school club or activity to receive a $250 donation. Davis plans to donate the money to the science department to replace outdated materials and equipment.

“I love math and science. The science community at Glacier has had a profound impact on me and inspired me to pursue a career in neurosurgery,” she said.

In the fall, Davis starts that pursuit at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Davis said she hopes to leave a legacy at Glacier of selfless service after graduating. 

“... serving not because it's an obligation, or because, you know, I want to check something off on checklists, or yeah, like I need it for college admissions, but because it's something that I'm passionate about. Not just signing up for the most random volunteer activities, but how can I serve in a way that will help build the things that I'm passionate about and work towards a future that I want to build?”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.


Winslow Nichols Award nomination criteria:

  • Eligibility: High school students in Flathead, Lake or Lincoln counties.
  • Academics: Students who value their education by exhibiting academic responsibility; preferably have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
  • Character: Students who display integrity, compassion, service and excellence.
  • Citizenship: Students who nurture healthy communities through community service, volunteerism or other contributions to their community and/or school.
  • Leadership: Students who take initiative and are role models for others.

Forms are available at https://www.logan.org/about/the-winslow-nichols-leadership-award/.