Lauren Madden’s parents got cancer at the same time. Now cheering doesn’t seem quite as important as her new job.
The nurses were like angels.
Lauren Madden noticed that about them. Their goodness and their gentle, kind spirits.
She noticed the angels because they really didn’t belong where she was — going through hell.
It was five years ago, when Madden was working in a mortgage department, a cheerleader for the Indianapolis Colts — and her father was diagnosed with aggressive duodenal cancer. Six months later, her mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
These two medical professionals from Greenwood — her dad, Tom Madden, an ER doctor; her mom, Terri, a surgical tech — found themselves in hospital beds, needing someone to take care of them.
And as Lauren Madden sat there, she saw the nurses care for the two people who meant the most to her in the world.
“I was just like, ‘Lauren what are you doing with your life? This is what you need to be doing,’ ” said Madden, who had graduated from Ball State University with a telecommunications major in 2010. “‘This is what you were called to do.'”
She immediately applied to nursing school.
Terri Madden, now cancer free, got to see her daughter graduate as a registered nurse in 2014. Tom Madden didn’t. He didn’t get to see her following in his footsteps, in an ER department. He died four years ago on Aug. 8.
“I go into work every day and think about him,” said Madden, 29, a registered nurse at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. “Sometimes I’ll be at work and I’ll think, ‘Oh I wish I could tell my dad that, this funny story, or what would my dad do in this situation?’ ”
As Madden tries to carry on the legacy of her dad, she’s made her own sacrifice.
After five seasons as a Colts cheerleader, she put away her boots. Working 12-hour shifts, caring for sick children is her focus now.
But she does have the Colts to thank for living out this very important dream — being one of those angels like the ones who cared for her dad.
A FATEFUL VISIT
It was the Colts’ annual visit to Riley, when players, big-name players such as Andrew Luck, visit the patients, hand out presents and sing Christmas carols.
Madden — a musical theater performer who at age 9 played Brigitta von Trapp in the Broadway production of “The Sound of Music,” touring 49 states and Asia — was thrilled.
“Doing the appearance at Riley, singing Christmas carols was always my absolute 100 percent favorite appearance,” Madden said Thursday morning before her shift started. “It was all my favorite things wrapped into one day. It was the Colts, nursing, being a cheerleader, kids, Riley, singing.”
But this year, Madden was even more excited. She had decided that with her nursing degree in hand — and already working in ER at St. Francis hospital — she would go for her dream job.
As she and her cheer teammates got ready in the restroom, she told them her plan: “I have to work here. I don’t care how, but I’m going to get a job today.”
After singing songs from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and seeing the children smile, Madden still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to mention to any of the hospital staff what she wanted.
“We’re getting ready to walk out the door. I’m like, ‘This is your chance, come on Lauren, come on, you can do this,’ ” she recalled. “And we’re walking out and I was like, ‘Oh, by the way, if you guys are hiring, let me know.’ ”
Lucky for her, a man named Paul Haut heard her loud and clear.
Dr. Haut, the chief medical officer at Riley, was there to see the caroling Colts. When he heard Madden was a nurse, wanted to work at Riley and was already in the ER, he pounced.
“We need emergency department nurses,” he said. “So, we’re always looking for people who want to work for Riley, who have a need to care for some of the sickest kids in the state. It takes a special soul.”
Madden seemed to have what it took. Haut could tell that right away, so he did something a little unusual.
On the spot, Haut called the manager of the ER and told her he thought he had someone to hire. The manager came down and conducted an impromptu interview with Madden, still wearing her caroling hat and uniform. A few weeks later, Madden got an official interview.
Haut didn’t hear how it all turned out until March, when Madden started at Riley. Haut was wandering around the ER and saw that Colts cheerleader.
“She said, ‘Do you remember me?’ ” Haut said. “Oh my gosh. She got the job.”
They’re at the secret treasure chest — Madden and Nevaeh DeVault, 5. Nevaeh is in the ER, nervous, and Madden is helping her pick out a treat.
Nevaeh finally settles on a pink monkey that she decides to name “Monkey.” Madden smiles.
“I love it,” she tells her patient, as if it’s the most original name there is.
Madden loves the kids. She loves singing the ABCs and classic Disney songs and popular favorites like “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” She’s helped many a kid get through a scary time singing by their bed.
“That’s my favorite part about working at Riley. I know medicine’s important in getting these kids better, but I think making that connection with them (makes a difference),” she said. “Getting them a toy from the secret treasure chest and giving them a high five or a hug.”
That’s what brings the patients and their families comfort. That’s what Madden’s mission is.
Yes, she’ll miss being an NFL cheerleader. Madden knows she will be wishing she were on the field this football season. She still follows the Colts cheerleader Facebook page. But it was her choice to not try out for the 2016 season.
The decision wasn’t all that hard. She often thinks back to her days growing up in Greenwood, sitting around the dinner table with her dad telling stories of the ER. She remembers his cool demeanor that calmed the chaos of the department at Bloomington Hospital of IU Health.
Tom Madden may not have gotten to see his daughter graduate, but as he lay in the hospital tended to by nurses, he knew his daughter would soon be one of them.
“I think he would be proud that I’m at Riley and working with kids every day,” she said. “I still feel like he’s guiding me.”