Brother's illness tested her faith

Friday, February 22, 2019 - Updated: 1:10 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

When her younger brother was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Madalyn Mote was scared. She also endured a crisis of faith that ultimately brought her closer to Jesus.

In 2016, Nick Mote became sick. His teachers at St. Ursula School noticed that the 12-year-old looked jaundiced and called his parents, Stephen and Alissa Mote of Gibsonia.

Nick was admitted immediately to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh with high liver enzyme levels. Doctors put him on strong doses of steroids and ran blood tests twice a week, adjusting the medication.

Nick’s numbers began to improve. He went home. They thought he would be OK.

But after discovering a large bruise on his hand, Nick was back in the hospital. Then the diagnosis came. He was suffering from aplastic anemia, a rare condition in which the body stops producing enough new blood cells. Without intervention, it can be fatal. His ability to produce red and white blood cells and platelets was functioning at less than 5 percent. Nick needed a bone marrow transplant.

Only 25 percent of siblings are able to donate their bone marrow, but tests showed Madalyn was a perfect match. She could save Nick’s life.

“I did some soul searching,” she said. “It’s a lot for a 14-year-old to say ‘yes’ to, but why would anyone say ‘no’ to their little brother?”

The stress affected her spiritually. Madalyn had been active at St. Victor Parish in Bairdford, where she is an altar server and helps out during summer Bible school and at the Lenten fish fry.

But this difficulty put her faith to the test.

“I did go through a rough patch. I wasn’t exactly happy with God at the time,” Madalyn said. “I kind of just pushed him away.”

She turned to Michael Pater, her religion teacher at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights, who provided guidance and support. She also prayed, by herself and with her family.

“We took it day-by-day,” Madalyn said.

After chemotherapy treatment to kill all of Nick’s diseased bone marrow, he received Madalyn’s donated cells. The transplant lasted eight hours.

Nick began to recover. His mother said he was back to normal in about a year, and today he is a healthy 15-year-old freshman at St. Joseph High. He receives checkups every four months. Doctors never learned what caused his illness.

As her brother improved, Madalyn’s faith was renewed as she continued to talk to God and received support from the Catholic community. Now a junior, she volunteers as a student ambassador and collects food and clothing for the needy. She also is a competitive dancer.

From time to time, Madalyn thinks back to her brother’s illness and how it eventually strengthened her faith and family.

“We were very lucky and blessed that I was able to help him,” she said.

Madalyn shares her story with Father Tom Burke on “Catholic Education Plus,” which airs 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, on KDKA-AM 1020. Also appearing on the program is Madalyn’s classmate, Tyler Fontana. The interview is available online at: https://kdkaradio.radio.com/media/podcast/catholic-education-plus.

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