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Disease changed her life, now she’s changing others’ lives for the better

Madison sitting on green couch with laptop

It’s just a virus. That’s what doctors told Madison “Maddie” Davis. She was 17—a junior in high school—when sores started forming in her mouth, a rash spread on her neck and chest, and days of fatigue turned into weeks of utter exhaustion. It took almost a month, three trips to the hospital, and countless doctor appointments and blood tests before doctors figured out what was really causing her ailments.

It was not just a virus. In May 2017, Maddie was diagnosed with Juvenile Myositis (JM). Maddie’s immune system was attacking its own cells and tissues. Diagnosis of the life-threatening autoimmune disease meant weeks of hospitalization followed by inpatient rehabilitation. It meant endless pills and infusions and wheelchairs. It also meant her dream of joining the military was over.

Today, Maddie, from Millersville, Maryland, is a sophomore studying Education at York College of Pennsylvania. The disease changed her physically, but the challenges she had to overcome because of it also changed her outlook on life—for the better. Living with JM, Maddie says she gained a new sense of empathy and compassion. She’s carrying that into everything she does at York College and beyond.

Instagramming her experience

Maddie is now a teen advocate for Cure JM, a nonprofit raising awareness and funding research for JM. She’s spoken on panels at conferences, helping parents understand what their kids are going through. She’s led panels for teens to ask questions and talk freely without judgement. 

She also blogs about her experience and posts on Instagram in the hopes of helping other families and kids affected by the disease. Helping others has given meaning to her own experience. “It’s pretty rewarding,” Maddie says. “It makes it seem like I went through all this for a reason.”

She also has plans to write an autobiography about her experience with JM and beyond. “I have so much to share,” she says. “JM definitely changed me for the better.” The biggest lesson she’s learned? Empathy. “You never know who is coming back from an eight-hour infusion,” she says.

Paying it forward

Maddie’s dream used to be joining the United States Coast Guard Academy. Now, her dream job is running a charter school, being on a board of education, or becoming a lobbyist. She wants to make the kind of big changes she thinks could benefit the education system.

As a Graham Innovation Scholar at York College, she’s already started on her dream of making big changes. This summer, she started testing a summer program for kids in York that encouraged innovation and entrepreneurial ideas at the Graham Innovation Zone at York College. The program is just in its infancy, but it was rewarding for Maddie to work one-on-one with middle-schoolers and practice the empathy she’s learned in the past few years.

Kids could be going through things we know nothing about, she says. Helping them grow up and deal with their problems and supporting them—that’s one of the things she thinks is essential to have in a school system.

A different path

It’s been just over two years since she was diagnosed, but Maddie says she doesn’t even recognize the person she was before JM.

She was forced to grow up fast, but she chose to take the lessons of compassion and empathy and put them into practice in the rest of her life. She’s already making a difference in so many people’s lives, and she’s nowhere near done.

“I’m glad I got thrown off my original course,” she says, “because this is definitely a much happier one.”