Dayna McLeod knew something wasn’t right.
She might have been just moments removed from giving birth to her first child, but her mother’s intuition was in overdrive.
As she was taking a picture of her husband, Stuart, holding their newborn, she was struck by something.
“Does she look blue to you? Why isn’t she crying?” she asked.
What would follow would test not just the new parents, but also the resolve of their newborn, Madison.
The moments after alerting nearby nurses of their concern were a blur, with Dayna seeing a nurse beginning to push the blue button on the wall — a sign of a medical emergency.
All of a sudden, there were cries of “we are losing her!” coming from doctors with AED equipment in hand.
As they prepared Madison to be airlifted to Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego, doctors and nurses told Dayna and Stuart to say their goodbyes, as the outlook was not promising.
Dayna told Stuart to go with Madison, leaving the young mom behind in her own thoughts.
A pair of doctors and a social worker quickly helped Dayna prepare to be transferred to the other hospital, knowing time was of the essence.
Doctors explained that Madison’s lungs had collapsed and that the likelihood of survival was quite small.
Dayna remembers asking over and over what was wrong with her little girl.
What was happening was a 20 million-to-one chance, caused by an undiagnosed pulmonary infection during the final stage of the pregnancy.
While an official prognosis was never made due to time constraints, it mattered little to Dayna, as all of her attention was put on Madison. The newborn was struggling with bleeding in her lungs, which was poisoning her blood, causing her to experience sepsis.
Dayna was taken by ambulance to Rady’s, where a social worker met her at the entrance with a Polaroid camera, telling her to capture as many photos as she could, saying “you need to do it now.”
Dayna was taken to the trauma room, where she saw nearly 20 doctors and nurses gathered around Madison, doing everything possible to save her life.
Dayna looked at Stuart hoping for reassurance, only to see fear.
Madison was hooked up to dozens of tubes, having to put her on a ventilator that caused her body to shake. Doctors put her into a paralytic coma, placing her on a cooling table to try and stop her brain from seizures.
Dayna remembers watching Madison’s primary doctor, Dr. Brain Lane, sit at the edge of her bed and yell “pull!” every 30 seconds, having to remove the oxygen so they could suction her lungs to try and control the sepsis.
This continued for two agonizing hours.
“It felt like an eternity,” Dayna said.
Soon, the removal of the oxygen occurred every minute, then every five, then to every half hour. This went on for nearly 10 hours.
“We have done everything we possibly can for her…now it’s up to her to fight,” doctors said.
And did she ever fight.
The 8-pound baby showed the resolve of a boxer on the ropes — or a tennis phenom continuing to fight off match point.
And she’s owned the match ever since.
At 5 weeks old, doctors said that Madison was strong enough to go home.
But, that came with a difficult conversation.
While physically Madison was OK to go home, doctors cautioned the young parents that she had gone without oxygen for a long period of time, likely causing severe brain damage and a life with cerebral palsy.
“We’re sorry, but your child will never walk or talk,” Dayna recalled them saying.
But they didn’t know Madison.
Dayna would quit her job and work with Madison five days a week in a trio of therapies — physical, occupational and speech.
Madison would surpass all milestones — even ones that “normal” children should make.
While she showed no signs of disabilities, her parents did send her to private school for Kindergarten, hedging their bets that she might need help at some point. Despite the near half-million hospital bill — which forced bankruptcy — and the costs of a private education were enormous, nothing was more important than their Madison.
While these stresses did eventually lead to Stuart and Dayna getting a divorce, their sole focus in life has been Madison.
Dr. Lane is still in disbelief over Madison’s will to live — and thrive.
“There is no medical explanation for your daughter,” Dr. Lane told Dayna. “She is a true miracle!”
As life returned to some sense of normal, Madison had a growing interest in something that could have never been imagined as she fought for her life — becoming a professional athlete.
Specifically, a tennis star.
While many pre-teens dream of a life of luxury that comes along with being a pro athlete, Madison has decided to put her effort where her dreams are.
While thriving on the local tennis circuit, Dayna and Stuart realized that what Madison needed to realize her dreams was something that the South Coast couldn’t offer.
Enter Masters Tennis Barcelona — an elite tennis academy in Spain, where Madison is the only American.
“I want to be the best, so I have to train with the best,” Madison said.
In order to make this happen, Dayna once again quit her job, packed up the house and put her belongings in storage and “took a leap of faith.”
“We packed two suitcases each and got on a plane,” Dayna said.
They arrived in Spain having no place to live, no prospects for employment and neither speaking the native language.
“None of that mattered though,” Dayna said. “What mattered was that I got her to exactly where she needs to be.”
Dayna and Madison now live in a one-bedroom, 500-square-foot apartment, a residence that doesn’t include a dishwasher nor a dryer. The closest parking space? Nearly seven blocks away.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“America is so easy. But it is not important; it’s important that I encourage her to follow her dream,” Dayna said.
Madison spends a minimum of four hours on the tennis court per day, starting her day with personal instruction. In the afternoon, she does her studies, where she enjoys history — a perfect fit for being a foreigner in Europe, where she can see a lot of what she is learning about. She is attending online school at Laurel Springs School in Ojai, where she is a straight-A student.
She previously attended Laguna Blanca prior to moving to Spain. While Madison might get a bit homesick in the days after a visit to the United States, she is hyper focused on making the most out of her time in Europe.
“Sure, I miss my dog and my friends, but the life here is the one I am meant to have, I love tennis so much,” Madison said.
After school, she also does 90 minute of intense physical workout — something Dayna marvels at considering Madison’s beginnings.
“She is so self-motivated,” Dayna said.
While she travels from country to country to play in tournaments — she is facing “the best of the best,” Dayna said — her aspirations are so much larger.
She has recently visited both Wimbledon and Roland Garos, sites of two of tennis’ four major tournaments.
“I’m going to play in Wimbledon one day,” Madison said.
“She says she is going to win at Wimbledon,” Dayna added.
She’s well on her way to handling some media attention — even if it was for being a bit of a fangirl for a few moments.
At a recent tournament in Manacor Mallorca, Spain, Madison found herself in one of Rafael Nadal’s academies. As she walked by the gym, there was Mr. Nadal himself, wiping down a treadmill in preparation for a workout.
Madison couldn’t help but to start to giggle and point a bit, taking a selfie and a video. The moment went viral, from Spain to Australia.
Mr. Nadal is her idol — his work ethic inspires her to keep on pushing.
“I want to play just like him, he plays with so much heart,” Madison said.
And she has a team of people around her that are determined to help her get there, as she works with a tennis coach, travel coach, fitness coach, mental coach, nutritionists and a physical therapist — all before the age of 13.
“I am always learning, that’s why I’m here,” Madison said. “They teach me, but then I have to do the work.”
She has found some space for downtime, visiting the pyramids in Egypt and taking in history wherever she can.
“It’s so cool, you read about it in a book and then you can be right there,” Madison said.
With an infectious personality and indeterminable appetite for winning, Dayna and Stuart have made the decision to invest in their daughter, even in the face of financial hardship.
Her dream is worth every penny.
“Madison has been chosen to be one of the greats, and she is well on her way,” Dayna said.
Don’t doubt a mother’s intuition.