Parkland teen shooting survivor shares powerful message after leaving hospital.

Maddy Wilford was shot three times during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th.

When rescuers found Wilford, they thought that she was among the 17 victims who had already died. But she survived — and today, she was able to finally leave the hospital.

Surrounded by her parents, surgeons, and the paramedic who saved her, Wilford took the opportunity to raise her voice.


"I'm Madeline Wilford," she began. "I would just like to say that I'm so grateful to be here."

Joe Raedle​/Getty Images.

Wilford thanked her physicians as well as classmates and strangers for the overwhelming love she's received.

Doctors said that if rescuers had stuck with their initial plan to drive Wilford to a hospital 30 miles away, she likely would not have survived. Instead, a fire-rescuer made a split-second decision to take her to a much closer facility 10 miles away. "She's very lucky, very, very lucky," said Broward Health North medical director Igor Nichiporenko.

It's a strong reminder that the tragedy reached beyond victims and their families and impacted the rescuers, doctors, specialists, and volunteers who labored tirelessly to save as many students as possible from the attack.

"It wouldn’t be possible without those officers and first responders and these amazing doctors," Wilford said. "And just all the love that’s been passed around. I definitely wouldn’t be here without it,” she said.

Her family said they're hopeful the tragedy can become a larger opportunity for building community.

Despite the pain and fear their family has experienced in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, Wilford's parents said the outreach of support has also given them a reason to be hopeful moving forward.

"I see this as, yes it is a tragedy, but I would like to try to find a way to find the positive in what has happened here in our community,” said Wilford's mother, Missy. "We have had an outpouring from people that we don’t know, people that now I consider to be our friends."

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas community has already shown that they're determined to become a powerful united force for change.

And as many of her classmates have made headlines speaking out in favor of gun control, Wilford has been watching and supporting from her hospital bed.

It started with frustrated survivors speaking out on cable news and holding demonstrations. Then, Wilford herself was visited in hospital by President Donald Trump, who later surprised some by expressing a willingness to support gun control measures, and infuriated many others by using a photo of the visit to raise campaign money.

All told, Wilford's classmates have presented a united front in starting a movement for gun control, perhaps most visibly in the form of a televised town hall where students and the families of victims confronted politicians and a NRA spokeswoman over their failure to take meaningful action.

"Like my mom says, it’s times like these when we all need to stay together,” she said. "I've seen a lot of positive posts about what's going on at school. I just love the fact that we’re sticking together after this."

As Wilford heads home to rejoin her school community, millions of others across the country are rallying to do the same.

Wilford will be re-entering a community that's been forever changed by tragedy — but has also been propelled into action that has quickly scaled to a national level. What began as an increasingly common attack has now become a country-wide movement, one that will draw hundreds of thousands of people to Washington to march in support of gun control measures later this month.

It's an incredibly powerful thing to watch student survivors like Wilford display strength for their cause on a public stage. And as they continue to rally for a safer nation, millions of their fellow citizens are joining them in sending a clear message: never again.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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