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Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

Contact: Matt Itelson
phone: (415) 338-1665

Brain power: the will to live

San Francisco student overcomes severe brain surgery to pioneer disabilities program

SAN FRANCISCO, April 26, 2001 - It took more than a brain surgeon to save Linda Madison's life.

Before undergoing a 17-hour brain surgery 10 years ago, Madison's doctors told her she wouldn't survive. Yet her strength, dedication, passion and drive enabled her not only to survive, but also to thrive as a crusader for the rights of the disabled and an educator of others on issues facing the disabled population.

While a student at San Francisco State University - where Madison will graduate with a bachelor's degree in social work May 26 - she established the Disability Education, Action and Representation (DEAR) program, which provides mentoring for disabled students and faculty-student conflict resolution as well as class presentations to promote better awareness about disabilities.

"Linda has obviously faced a great deal of adversity, and through adversity comes strength," said SFSU Disability Programs Coordinator Don Brown, who has worked extensively with Madison on campus compliance issues regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "She has spirit, energy and drive, and I believe she will be immensely successful."

A single mother of four grown children and three grandchildren, Madison, 53, said the bond of her family helped her recover so well from the brain surgery. To this day, Madison is deaf in her right ear, only hearing a constant loud ringing in that ear. But this only helps ignite her passion.

"Disability can be used as empowerment - a way to grow, reach out and find your place in this world," Madison said.

Her true dedication to help the disabled and educate others on disabilities has translated well into her powerful class presentations, which have touched many SFSU students.

"There is a hunger for able-bodied students to learn about disabilities. When it came time for students to share, some cried," she said. "I heard and saw things that made me know how badly needed this program is."

Recently, Madison was one of 21 California State University students to win the STARS (Students That Are Recognized for Service) award, acknowledging her efforts with DEAR as well as her volunteer work with the Bay Area Homelessness Program and efforts to ensure SFSU complies with regulations of the ADA.

Later this year, Madison will publish her autobiography, "Under the Weeping Willow Tree" (Bawn Publishing).

"Writing this book was a true healing experience," she said. "I had to go through my life all over again and relive situations that at one time I thought were hopeless."

Among those seemingly hopeless situations include some sad news she received along the road to her recovery. Shortly after the surgery, Madison's son Phillip was diagnosed with schizophrenia - a psychotic disorder characterized by illogical thinking patterns, delusions, hallucinations and often accompanied by other emotional, behavioral or rational disturbances. Thanks to Madison's constant support, understanding and love, she said Phillip is able to lead a somewhat "normal" life.

"The health department can't believe he's so high-functioning," said Madison, who talks to him weekly over the phone. "I believe it's because of the communication and love of our family. He drives, works and surfs - but only because I've stayed on top of everything in his life."

After Madison recovered from the surgery, she felt the need to help others in similar situations. She founded and led the Central Coast Impairment Management Program, a Monterey-based nonprofit organization that provides support for brain-injured survivors and their families.

Madison will enter the graduate program in social work at CSU Fresno this fall. She plans to establish a DEAR program on campus and at area high schools, creating what she calls a "circle of acceptance" for those with disabilities.

"I believe that when students accept themselves for who they are, then they can accept others for their uniqueness," Madison said.

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NOTE: Madison may be contacted directly at (831) 262-0492 or

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by Office of Public Affairs