By Shana Champion, Helpshift
On an ordinary day in Cairns, Australia—just an hour’s boat ride from the Great Barrier Reef—Madison Annibale’s heart began to malfunction. There were no warning signs or sharp pains—it happened out of the clear blue. She had just turned 17 and was working at a grocery store.
Before that, like most teenagers on the precipice of adulthood, Madison was busy dreaming about college. She’d pursue a business degree at James Cook University, she thought—not because she was especially passionate about economics or management science—it just seemed like the right next step, “a safe bet,” she recalls.
Fate had other plans. Madison would end that surreal day in the ICU, connected to an artificial heart. “I remember the doctor saying in a slow and deliberate way, ‘Well, what we’re going to have to do here is take your heart out and put someone else’s in.’”
Madison relays the story matter-of-factly, with a level of maturity that feels beyond her years.
“I’m so lucky that I only waited two months for the call that would change my life. Some people wait years. Others never get that call,” she said gravely.
It’s hard to think about anything positive coming from such an abrupt and tragic occurrence, but the silver lining for Madison is this: When your life gets ripped away from you, and you realize that to begin again someone else’s life has to end, you take nothing for granted. And, if you’re Madison, you don’t spend your second chance studying business because it feels safe. You call your mom and exclaim, ‘Don’t get mad, but I think I want to study video games.’”
And she did. Madison went on to earn a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane. Today she works in customer support at Halfbrick, one of the most well-known indie game developers in the world. She’s a natural with people, and spends her days resolving player issues, collecting insights, and helping to shape the future of beloved games like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.
Madison is the customer support agent you hope to get when you’re missing game credits or have a bug to report. In fact, she still seems positively tickled to be working in gaming—like she’s getting paid to help others do the thing that she also loves. That’s because she is.
Madison is living her dream after heroically surviving the stuff of nightmares.
“Someday I want to design a game that helps people, especially kids, navigate transplant post care. It’s really complicated and there are so many things to suddenly be responsible for, like taking pills every few hours and testing your blood. I think gamifying parts of the difficult daily routine could really make a difference for young people.”
This is what makes Madison a revolutionary. Life flashed her a huge, blinking “Game Over” sign that fateful day, but she didn’t quit. In fact, she came back stronger than ever—and now she wants to use her superpowers for good.
Want to hear Madison’s top tips for launching Fruit Ninja 2? What the webinar Master a Game Launch Like a Fruit Ninja on demand.
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