By David Weaver
MISD Public Relations
Madison Skinner is just like any other seven-year old child in the summertime. She likes to swim, much like her older sister, Molly Michael, who is already swimming competitively as she prepares to enter the fourth grade at South Marshall STEM Academy.
Madison, or Madie, as she is more well known, is entering the second grade at William B. Travis Elementary. She enjoys the freshness of dipping her face in the cool water of a swimming pool, or the exciting rush of entering the water after a trip down the slide.
All of this is normal for most children over the course of a hot Texas summer in Marshall. But for Madie and her family, a simple pleasure such as swimming is something much more.
It is a profile in courage.
Matt and Kristin Skinner, both graduates of Marshall High School, had celebrated the first birthday of their second child, Madie, in June of 2010 and were going about their normal, everyday lives in August of that year. Matt was working in Longview, and Kristin had a dental appointment the afternoon of August 25, 2010. Molly Michael was at preschool, and Madie was with a babysitter.
Madie was 14 months old.
Matt, a graduate of Baylor University, will never forget the phone call he received.
“The sitter called me, and by the way she was talking I knew something had happened,” Matt recalls. “I got a very short story in about 15 seconds, and I left and was on my way back to Marshall. I didn’t understand a whole lot but I didn’t have to to sense that something was really bad.”
Kristin, who graduated MHS in 1998 and went on to graduate from Texas A&M, was sitting in the dentist’s chair, across from the Good Shepherd Medical Center in Marshall, having a cavity filled.
“I just remember the assistants kept coming back into the room and asking, ‘is she done yet? Are you finished yet?’”she said. “That happened three or four times before they finally came back and said, ‘ok, well she’s got to go.’”
Both parents found out what had happened when they arrived at the emergency room at GSMC-Marshall. Madie had slipped out of the house and wandered into the swimming pool – alone. By the time she was discovered in the pool, several minutes had elapsed.
The exact amount of time Madie spent floating unconscious in the swimming pool isn’t known.
“We can only estimate…anywhere from 15-20 minutes,” Matt said. “No one really knows.”
Medical personnel told her parents that the brain ceases to function usually after seven minutes without oxygen. Using that as a gauge, for all intents and purposes, Madie drowned that day in the swimming pool.
But medical personnel managed to stabilize her, despite the odds, long enough to allow Children’s Medical Hospital from Dallas to send a life-flight aircraft to Marshall. Kristin was the only parent allowed to ride in the aircraft with Madie back to Dallas, and Matt was preparing to follow them via car until some of his high school friends secured a private plane that allowed him to literally follow Kristin and Madie in the air.
Things looked dark and bleak for the Skinners that day, which still remains a blur for a mom who simply wanted to see her little girl open her eyes again.
“I don’t really remember much of what happened that day, to this day,” says Kristin. “All I know is that I was at the hospital and people kept telling me how sorry they were for us, for Madie. I finally had to just tell them to please stop telling me they were sorry, that I didn’t need to hear that. All I wanted was to get Madie where she needed to be so we could take care of her.”
The staff at Children’s in Dallas cared for Madie around the clock for the next 2 ½ months. Matt and Kristin were told on several occasions that the brain damage suffered by the oxygen loss was anywhere from manageable to irreversable. They received so many medical opinions from different doctors throughout their stay that they finally began to tune most of it out.
“It got to a point where all I wanted to say to anyone was that I don’t care what the odds are, Madie is going to be that kid that everyone talks about as a miracle,” Kristin said. “Madie was going to make it and be a miracle.”
The days were long at first. The baby was unconscious for most of her early stay but Matt remembers a time late one night after a few days in Dallas in which a nurse woke him up from her bedside.
“She called me over and said that she wanted me to see this,” Matt remembers. “I looked and Madie had opened her eyes and was looking around the room. She had the most beautiful baby blue eyes before the accident but at that moment her eyes were dark, a much different color. We didn’t know if she could even see us, so I just leaned over and started talking to her in her ear.”
As the days progressed, Madie continued to defy the odds and predictions. The critical 72-hour period passed and she began to be able to periodically breathe without being intubated. On the fifth day, she had her first seizure – a big seizure that did more damage to her and required her to be re-intubated. That proved to be the only seizure she experienced for years following the accident.
She also went through a period of “neuro-storming,” a process in which the brain, after it has been basically shut off for a period of time, begins to fire back up similar to the reboot of a computer. At that point, basically every part of Madie’s body and every nerve ending began to “fire off” again, which created long periods of deep, prolonged pain for the little girl.
“If she was awake, she was screaming, and sweating, and flexing every muscle in her body,” Kristin recalls. “That went on for months. She took so much medicine over that time, antibiotics, pain medication, all of it.”
Eventually Madie progressed to a point where she began therapy, and at that point Matt and Kristin – who had been at her bedside every minute since the accident until that point – began switching off week-to-week. The intent was to have someone with Madie all the time while also having someone at home with Molly Michael, to give their oldest daughter some semblance of normalcy at the beginning of the school year.
Madie’s fight continued into November, and she progressed enough in her recovery to be able to finally be released from Children’s just before Thanksgiving. At that point, the Skinners began the process of adjusting from a “normal” family life to one with a child who, just months earlier, and been just another one-year old to one with that child now having special needs and requiring extra care.
But that didn’t matter to them, or their friends, or the Marshall community. Madie was home. Madie had fought and defied the odds. The Skinners and their host of friends began celebrating every day, because “it was another day with Madie in it,” Kristin said.
At that point, Matt and Kristin also began formulating a plan as to returning Madie – and Molly Michael, for that matter – to a sense of peace and normalcy. They had watched their baby fight, make progress, suffer setbacks, and then fight some more. They had seen her improve through her therapy, and she began to make strides – some small, some large – over the next several months. Her constant progress energized them even more, and Kristin kept going back to what she told the doctors through first traumatic hours and days following the accident…
“Madie is going to be one of those miracle stories everybody will talk about.”
Months passed, and the Skinners fell into a routine of family – including countless hours with Madie at the doctor’s office for checkups and endless sessions of various therapy.
Summer was fast approaching.
A DIP IN THE WATER
As the oldest child of Matt and Kristin Skinner, Molly Michael has never been afraid of the water. Her parents note that she began swimming at an early age and that she has developed such a love for it that she competes regularly as a young fourth grader.
One of their questions during the recovery process with Madie was, how would the accident affect Molly Michael in regards to swimming?
“We just decided to let her decide on her own,” Matt said. “If she wanted to ask questions, we would answer them. But we wanted to do everything we could to encourage her and show her that she didn’t have to be afraid of the water, that what happened to her baby sister was an unfortunate accident.”
So the Skinners were determined to return to the pool. Molly Michael kept on swimming and loving it, and Matt and Kristin admit that it was almost like a healing experience. Surprisingly, they had no reservations about swimming or swimming pools or enjoying typical, everyday summer activities.
But what about Madie…?
“We did not see any hesitation or fear from Madie around a swimming pool or water,” Kristin said. “We followed her lead. Our goal as her parents is to let her know that she is capable of doing anything she wants to do, and that includes getting in the water. If she wanted to get in the swimming pool, we were going to do everything we could to make sure she had no fears.”
So the summer of 2011 – less than a year after she was retrieved, unconscious, from a swimming pool and literally having her life hanging in the balance – two-year-old Madie Skinner began taking swimming lessons.
And now, five years later, she continues taking lessons. Her teacher the last few years has been Charisma Rosenquist, of Charisma’s Safe Splash Swim School. Matt and Kristin rave about her ability to connect with Madie both in the pool and out.
“Madie would swim every day if she could,” Kristin said. “She loves to just dip her face in the water and sometimes drinks too much of it, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to try new things in the pool. She is just a determined kid who doesn’t believe there is anything she can’t do.
“Of course, an adult is always in the pool with her and she uses devices and other things to help her, but she is swimming. That’s one thing we have learned from all of this and stress to other parents, it literally only takes a second for you to turn your back for accidents to happen. We are not afraid of anything, and Madie isn’t afraid of anything around a pool, but we also understand that as parents we have to always watch and be aware. I think most parents understand that but sometimes we forget. It only takes a second if you are not careful,” she added.
Matt remembers the looks he got when people realized that his nearly-drowned daughter was back in the water.
“Some people thought we were crazy, some people probably said things that really don’t matter,” he said. “She is our daughter, and we make decisions based on what is best for her. Madie wanted to swim, so we let her swim. We take her to all kinds of therapy and MISD has been great for her at school, we love MISD. If she wasn’t showing improvement, then we may have not made some of the decisions. But she improves. She’s constantly getting better. So we keep going to therapy. And, she’s improving as a swimmer. Every year she does something in the pool that just blows us away.”
Today, Madie requires some help standing and will usually be seen in a wheelchair at school. She does not communicate verbally but can hear and understand every word that is spoken to her. She has also begun learning sign language, and she can certainly communicate with a big, wide, wonderful smile.
Her parents continue to encourage her and her sister to smile as much as they can. Even around the swimming pool, which is still a subject that Matt and Kristin have to sometimes tip-toe around quietly but in a very positive way.
“She doesn’t miss a word, so if we don’t want to get her too excited, we have to now spell the word S-W-I-M,” Matt said. “Otherwise, she’ll have us going to the pool all day every day.”
That’s a price the Skinners are happy to pay for enjoying another day with Madie.