MONROE — Loud and confident, Hailey Betthauser has always had a unique personality. Her love for her family and close friends is unquestionable, and her smile is said to light up every room she enters.
In high school, she made a name for herself on the softball field at Monroe. The 2019 graduate set the program mark for most home runs in a season as a senior (6), despite being one of the smaller players in the lineup.
“She’s relatively petite, but she had power at the plate. She was our No. 2 hitter and was one of, if not the best outfielders in the history of this program,” said Monroe varsity softball coach Joe O’Leksy, who coached Betthauser on varsity for her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
The star centerfielder helped lead her team to the state championship her senior year and earned all-conference honors and was named to the senior all-star team in the process.
“She was a go-go-go player that would run into the fence to catch a ball; steal a base; hit home runs. She was a very good softball player and improved every single year,” O’Leksy said. “She was a notorious fighter — very vocal and kept us even.”
As a student, she made the high-honors roll. After high school, she moved in with friends in the Madison area while attending college, and their already playful bond grew.
“Hailey listens to only sad music, no matter what,” said roommate Kirsten Kundert, laughing. “She would come out of the shower with her wet hair and smack us all with her hair, or she would make sure her hair was left everywhere.”
Close family and friends know Hailey for being “a little extra” or dramatic at times. They also know how full of love she was to her friends and family, especially niece Ella, who is almost 2.
“(Hailey) has been obsessed with Ella,” said Hannah, Hailey’s sister and Ella’s mom. They’d FaceTime often, Hannah said.
An athletic, charismatic young woman with a smile wider than home plate appeared to have a bright future in front of her. Her new nephew, Lucas, Ella’s brother arrived just before Christmas in 2019, and as the calendar rolled into 2020, he was released from the NICU.
Hannah said that during the night of Jan. 2, Hailey and her friends were playing games at their house. Hannah was texting her sister various Bitmojis in a relaxed conversation that had suggestions of going to see a doctor and “new year, new me.”
“It’s like, what was that? A sign?” Hannah said.
No one could have guessed what would transpire the following day.
Betthauser had a strong headache, was losing her vision and vomiting during the day Jan. 3. She video chatted with Hannah and said she’d let Hannah know if she decided to go into the hospital to get herself checked out by a doctor.
Five minutes later, Hailey’s friends, who were at her house with her, told Kade, her boyfriend not to drive her to the hospital, because she appeared to be heading downhill quickly. It may have turned out to be a lifesaving decision.
Kirsten was grocery shopping when she received a call from another roommate, Erica, letting her know they had called an ambulance.
“I could hear screaming in the background, and then I showed up as she was getting taken into the ambulance and then it just went quiet,” Kirsten said.
Hailey had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) burst, a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries in the brain. It caused a brain bleed, a type of stroke and just as paramedics arrived, she went into cardiac arrest — at just 19 years of age.
Kirsten and Hailey’s friends worked to keep paramedics, police officers and Hailey’s mother, Nicky Shippy, Hannah and others informed.
“We kind of realized it was getting a lot worse than what we thought it was because of how worried the paramedics were looking and how they were kind of, just, they didn’t want to answer any of our questions. They were just telling us that if we stayed calm, it’d be the best thing for us,” Kirsten said.
“They did keep asking if there was any history of strokes, and they were thinking that it was maybe drugs, but we kept telling them that no, she’s drug free,” said Kaylynn Conway, another longtime close friend of Hailey’s. “We were kind of slowly putting it together.”
Nicky said that one of the paramedics specialized in intubations, which was needed in the chaos on that cold winter day.
“I’m an EMT, so I had a pretty good idea at that point in time,” Nicky said. “I didn’t tell (Hannah) just because I didn’t want to worry her in case I was wrong, but I had a good idea that it was probably a stroke at that point.
“It was worse than I anticipated, for sure.”
Paramedics needed to stabilize Hailey from cardiac arrest prior to transporting her to UW Hospital in Madison, which gave time for Nicky and Hannah to arrive before Hailey.
“It was a whirlwind from there,” Nicky said. “The first week or two, we weren’t sure which way she was going to go with her recovery based on the size of the bleed and the location.”
Once at UW, Hailey underwent multiple emergency surgeries and procedures. The heart attack put Hailey into a coma, one she has not technically come out of.
Kennedy Foulker, another one of Hailey’s close friends, was taking a nap when her friend’s stroke occurred. “That was a wake-up call,” Kennedy said.
She said it almost felt like déjà vu, as if the group had gone through a similar situation before — except for they hadn’t. “It was a whole different life situation, so it was hard to know what to expect and how things were going to play out,” Kennedy said.
Another member of the close-knit group of friends was Kayla Ferguson, who attends UW-Whitewater. She was driving to Mineral Point when her father called and asked her pull over right away to tell her the news.
O’Leksy said that Hailey had an entire life of limitless possibilities right in front of her.
“It was shocking that this happened to her. After reading about (AVMs), it could happen to any one of us. You’ve got to live your life every single day, because anything can happen at any time,” O’Leksy said.
According to Mayo Clinic, brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. Most people are born with AVMs, but unless a thorough scan is completed, they can go unnoticed.
AVMs are rare, and signs and symptoms can easily be misconstrued. For some patients, headaches and seizures may occur. Hailey often experienced headaches — as did her mother and sister. Her grandfather suffered cardiac arrest while driving, and Hailey’s great-aunt was found to have aneurysms. But that’s as far as the family’s medical history can connect.
For many days after her stroke, Hailey showed few signs of coming out of comatose. On Jan. 12 she started having reflexes, which meant taking deeper breaths, twitching and having some pupil dilation.
Slowly but surely, Hailey has been fighting and has begun to regain some movement, keeping those closest to her cautiously optimistic.
“She is still technically considered in a coma because she’s still considered to be nonverbal,” Nicky said. “She reacts to us. When I come for doctor’s visits she lights up; she holds onto my hand. Different things like that. From a coma at UW, or a normal coma of what you think you know as a coma — it’s amazing to see the differences” at each visit. “But you don’t want to get too excited, because you don’t know if she’s going to continue to do it.”
Hailey spent five weeks in in the intensive care unit at UW before “graduating” into general care, Nicky said. In late February, Hailey was moved to Sacred Heart Rehabilitation in Milwaukee, and then in the summer left to a new care facility, Clearview Nursing and Rehabilitation in Juneau — but is now back to UW while battling pneumonia.
“It was strange living in a hospital for two months. The staff there was amazing. They not only cared for Hailey, but for us,” Nicky said. One nurse would ask every morning if Nicky had showered or eaten breakfast. “You know, they made sure I was taking care of me also.”
Nicky has kept a journal of updates at caringbridge.org/visit/haileybetthauser/journal. Hannah said that the words typed on the screen may come across to some readers as more cheerful than the actual tone. For example, in late March, Hailey responded in physical therapy by moving her leg on command — only it was more of a twitch than a kick.
“I think it’s kind of deceiving reading it on the internet. Like, it’s not what people think. Your first image is to see her, and when mom said she initiated to kick a ball, people would literally ask me, ‘Oh, she’s kicking a ball across the room or waving goodbye to people?’” Hannah said. “It’s hard to explain it, unless you’re a physical therapist, I guess ... It’s really small stuff. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but she’s come a long way, too.”
Hailey is still not speaking, but does react to hearing voices of family and friends. It’s been especially hard for everyone considering the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increased risks for patients and their medical teams, clinics and hospitals closed down visitations during Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order in the spring. That meant Nicky and Hannah were unable to see Hailey for many weeks beginning March 21.
“I would call Sacred Heart every day and they’d give me an update on her,” Nicky said.
With Hailey back at UW, one visitor is allowed in. Hannah and Nicky have shared duties, but on Hailey’s 20th birthday Aug. 9, both found a way to be sneaky and were able to see her.
“We swapped stickers,” Hannah said, matter-of-factly.
Those nearest to Hailey didn’t know what to make of the situation at first, other than they knew it was gravely serious and that they had to lean on each other to get through it — or so they thought.
“We’re kind of stubborn in that way — like, I don’t ask for help,” Nicky said. Whether she’s at the bank or on the Square, Nicky said people are asking about Hailey, or letting Nicky know they that are following along on CaringBridge. “It’s amazing to see.”
A fundraiser was set up at gofundme.com/f/hailey-betthauser-fund to help pay for medical and transportation costs. The Juda Fore Fathers event in early August donated koozie sales and tips to Hailey.
“I would say we’re really lucky to be in such a great community, have people be willing to help us and be willing to know that we’re all taken care of,” Ferguson said.
Hailey’s employer, North and South Seafood & Smokehouse, has also donated meals and money. Kirsten said that Hailey is the Smokehouse’s biggest fan. Her friends all knew her order by heart — brisket grilled cheese, sweet potato fries and two appetizers on the side.
“She was a very big advocate for that restaurant, and they’ve done a lot for her,” Kirsten said.
“They’ve been amazing,” added Nicky. “They brought us two giant things of food the first two nights for all my family, and they have donated so much money to us.”
While the family had asked on social media to send any birthday cards and flowers to the Juneau facility, some were hand delivered to Hannah or Nicky. Hannah read a few to Hailey, but admitted that it was emotionally difficult to get through.
Also on Hailey’s birthday, Kirsten and Nicky went to the ICU and general care floors to deliver food to the workers.
“The ICU center, the nurses all keep track of her yet and have come to visit her since she’s come back. They’ve made her banners and signs,” Nicky said. “As a thank you to the ICU and general care floor, which are the two floors that we were at, we took North and South (food) to both of those floors for Hailey’s birthday. A thank you for giving us another birthday with Hailey.”
While Hannah and Nicky took on the burden of looking after Hailey in the immediate aftermath of the stroke, Kirsten had to go back to living under the same roof she once shared with her friend.
“It was a lot quieter without Hailey being there,” Kirsten said. “When we weren’t able to go see her, it was pretty rough for all of our house. And then trying to be able to stay connected with like, Kayla and Kennedy and being able to just go through with it and cope with it. It’s hard.”
Kirsten said Hailey would ask what was going on in her life each day. Since the stroke, Kirsten has kept a running daily diary on her phone so when Hailey recovers, she can update her on all she’s missed.
“I’ve been writing little things that’s happened to all of us, and it goes all the way back to January,” Kirsten said.
Nicky and Hannah have leaned on each other, as well as the little ones, for emotional support and balance. “They’ve definitely been good for all of us,” Hannah said of Ella and Lucas. “They were really good at keeping our minds on the right track at the hospital. When everything happened that night, we had them there. The nurses loved to see them — they’re just very uplifting.”
Lucas was just out of the NICU when Hailey suffered her stroke. While Hailey was “obsessed” with Ella, she “really didn’t get to see Lucas. She got to see him in the NICU, and that’s it,” Hannah said.
Nicky has another emotional helper at home — Emmy, a dog she rescued two months ago that Hailey, who is “not animal person but with one exception” hasn’t met yet.
While O’Leksy didn’t get a chance to see Hailey in the hospital in the early days, he said the softball team has tried to be there for her. Assistant coaches Noel Herbst and Donna Skoge visited Hailey at UW in the first weeks, and the program, coaches, players and families of players have all donated money to the GoFundMe account.
“It’s gut-wrenching when it’s someone you know, and known for years — especially when there’s nothing else you can do,” O’Leksy said.
O’Leksy said that he had hoped to do “something special” for Hailey during a game this past spring, but with school sports canceled that didn’t happen. There is still some uncertainty in the air for next season, too. “I hope we don’t have to wait until next summer — or even later,” he said.
Future still unknown
Now working hard in therapy on standing and speech development, Hailey is getting close to officially coming out of her coma. The next step is to graduate from rehab and hospitals and move back in with Nicky, who will look after her. However, that won’t be for at least another year.
In early August, Nicky said that Hailey’s neurosurgeon had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that when the AVM ruptured, it basically “blew itself out,” allowing doctors to see the extensive damage throughout her brain. However, that meant the surgery to seal the blood vessels wouldn’t be able to happen.
Instead, the process will be done through radiation. To know whether or not the scarring of the arteries is successful could take between one and four years.
“That would be our only chance of actually taking care of the AVM. The AVM is still in there. There is portion that could still rupture, and that has to be taken care of by a neurosurgeon,” Nicky said. “I think she is in too fragile of a state for him to do anything, so he referred us to an oncologist.”
One thing is for certain, everyone in Hailey’s close circle is sure that she will be mad about what’s happened to her hair. Hailey proudly kept her hair long and often wore a lengthy braid in softball, almost as a trademark. It was cut for ease of care at one of the facilities.
“It was her pride and joy,” Ferguson said, laughing.