A Mother’s Mission: Maddy’s Gift of Love

What’s a mother to do when the light of her life is extinguished? Dawn Tilton Massabni has been looking for an answer to that question for about a year now — since the day her dauntless, bright spirited 19-year-old daughter Maddy died unexpectedly from toxic shock syndrome on March 30, 2017 at 4:55 p.m.

That answer, or any other, has hardly come easily for the longtime Rumson mom and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) graduate who grew up in the area and raised her family there. But now she thinks she’s found a way to keep the light that she and so many knew as Maddy shining bright.

Recently, a glimmer of light that she knows to be Maddy peered back at Dawn, lifting a little corner of the darkness that has drenched her soul since Maddy’s death. Maddy’s light, she believes, has shown her a way to truly let Maddy live on in the hearts of so many. The light is the apt “dawn,” like her mother’s name, of Maddy’s message here on Earth — to spread love through awareness of toxic shock and save lives.

“Maddy loved helping people,” Dawn said recently in a chat between old friends at her Rumson home. “And love … love is the first word I think of when describing Maddy. Love and light. She was such a source of light for so many people in this world. She was my world, her brother Georgie’s best friend, a good friend to so many, and a voice of hope that reached out to strangers in need — anywhere, any time. I know she would want me to do this, to help people so that her death, or life, was not in vain.” She smiled with a glint of her girl’s sparkle in her eyes as she wiped away tears.

Remembering Maddy is life-affirming. It is equally as painful, because, Dawn said, “When I think of her, I just miss her so much. I just want to hold her in my arms again. Knowing I can’t is devastating. But, knowing I can take her message to other girls and save their lives and knowing I am doing what she would have wanted me to do gives me hope and keeps her memory alive.”

So, Dawn is on a Maddy-inspired mission to take toxic shock syndrome awareness a few hundred, thousand or million steps further than what she thinks is the illegible, very incomplete minuscule print warning on the sides of tampon boxes. She and Maddy’s loved ones, with Dawn and brother Georgie at the helm, are setting out to make the warnings big, bright, filled with life and in people’s faces, literally, repeatedly, until they hear and heed it and lives are saved.

They are producing a video, which will feature Maddy and her friends and family and many messages about toxic shock. And Dawn has called on Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ/D-4) to help spread the message and call on the help of Congress’ Women’s Health Committee in Trenton. Any other help, she said, would be welcomed.

“Maddy already saved a girl’s life,” Dawn said. She told the story of a young girl, the daughter of an acquaintance, who had flu-like symptoms, went to the doctor, was told to go home and wait it out. The girl’s mother, having heard about Maddy, took the girl back to the doctor and she was ultimately diagnosed with toxic shock and saved.

“That’s why message has to be bright, attention-grabbing and everywhere — schools, nurses’ and doctors’ offices … everywhere and anywhere — so they see it and pay attention” Dawn said. “It’s hard to distinguish the difference between toxic shock and flu-like symptoms, and sometimes it’s too late. Young women really don’t pay attention to it. They go out, they forget about it (changing a tampon) and they feel invincible. Why wouldn’t they? They’re young and healthy. Moms should be very aware, too, to the point of them knowing when their daughters’ cycles are and why these symptoms are different from a touch of flu or symptomatic of the monthly cycle.”

It is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, very rare to die of toxic shock. But it does happen. In the past 20 years, one or two women out of 100,000 has been afflicted with toxic shock syndrome, or more commonly, septic shock, and half of those cases have not been associated with tampon use.

There are other causes, such as complications from bacterial infections that can arise from surgery, buns, and skin abrasions or lesions.

Back in the 1970s, with the advent of super absorbency tampons, specifically one called Rely, toxic shock syndrome became a household term, as awareness of proper tampon use was not well publicized or even known. Lately, though, there has been a bit of a spike in occurrence that has been attributed to a lack of public awareness from people feeling that times have changed and the more dangerous sanitary products are off the market.

But a tampon killed Maddy. “Know that Maddy loved life and a tampon took it away from her,” Dawn said.

She reminded that symptoms, when complications from the infection set in, include: fever, dizziness, muscle aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, and most notably, a drop in blood pressure (the top number, in particular). All of these flu-like symptoms are indicative of the body shutting down — a deprivation of oxygen to the vital organs. With the lack of oxygen feeding the vital organs, kidneys shut down and the victim becomes unresponsive and dies. It’s merciless. It’s blunt. It’s brutal. That’s what happens.

Dawn Tilton Massabni knows all too well that it can and does happen. It happened to her Maddy, the RFH Class of 2016 graduate with the beaming smile.

“She didn’t feel well and we had to get her to the hospital,” Dawn said as she relived the moment she knew something had gone terribly wrong. “I dressed her in her favorite sweatshirt, thinking I’d be bringing her home in it in a few days. I never imagined that I wouldn’t. I never imagined I’d never hold her again.”

But she does. Every day. With this mission for Maddy, Dawn holds tightly onto the memories of …

The young woman who loved the color blue and butterflies. The beautiful fashionista who had dreams of bringing beautiful things to the world. The loving mommy to her dog Charlie and nurturer of all animals and helpless beings. The RFH cheerleader who loved to champion the team to wins. The student and loyal sorority sister at Lynn University. The sister to Georgie, his bestie who rarely left his side. The daughter to Dawn who brought a new kind of love to her life from the moment she first heard her heartbeat in the womb. The young woman whose spirit, her mother believes, will fly high with renewed life and the grace of a metamorphosing butterfly to save another …

Dawn’s mission has begun. But, a small significant, nationwide gesture will kick it off on the Maddy’s birthday, Tuesday.

At what Dawn knows to be an inspiring moment, the exact time and day of Maddy’s birth, March 27 at 12:53 p.m., she asks that people gather 15 to 20 minutes before the moment in significant spots, wherever they are or wish to be in remembrance of Maddy, and release (recommended biodegradable) balloons with personal messages inside “to be sent to Maddy in heaven so she can catch up with all of us.

“A few of Maddy’s friends are going to release their balloons together at Sea Bright public beach and would love for others to join them. Help support our cause by writing a note about toxic shock awareness/symptoms and please tie it to the ribbon. Maddy would love it! Please take a picture of your release and send it to Massabni@verizon.net. She was beautiful in every way. Thanks.”

Thank you, Dawn, as many have said countless times, for giving the world Maddy.

— Elaine Van Develde