EXCLUSIVE: Madison Novo always knew she wanted to make a difference in children’s lives.
Growing up, she was a patient at Florida’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital from ages 12 to 14. In 2015, doctors diagnosed the now-18-year-old with prothrombin gene mutation and unspecified kidney failure.
Despite the daunting experience, Novo said it was the Hooters girls who visited that made her feel she wasn’t just a sickly patient who couldn’t spend time with her friends. Novo shared that she wanted to become a Hooters girl in hopes that she can make other children in her community feel they aren’t alone during their battles.
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Novo spoke to Fox News about her personal health journey, why she wanted to be part of the popular restaurant franchise, as well the misconceptions she feels people still have about the brand today.
Fox News: As a child, you were a patient at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. What happened?
Madison Novo: When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started having really bad stomach pains. I was never a sick kid growing up. I never had any problems. I was super, super healthy. But it just got worse. My mom took me to the ER and it took about two years of me going in and out of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital to be finally diagnosed with a couple of things. They found I have a blood disorder called prothrombin gene mutation.
It’s hard to explain that to a young girl at the time. Even now that I’m 18, I still have a bit of trouble understanding it. But basically, my white blood cells attack themselves. And then they diagnosed me with a gastritis disease. Then in between my two years, due to all the medicine that I was getting, I had unspecified kidney failure in-between all of that.
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Fox News: How did you make sense of your health issues as a child?
Novo: It was very, very hard, especially as a young teenage girl. All I wanted to do was hang out with my friends. I mean, there’s not much you can do at that age aside from going to the mall *laughs* but it definitely took a toll on my childhood. I was at the hospital and unable to do much.
Luckily, the staff at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital is so amazing, especially with my family. I really felt like it was my home away from home. The staff did their best to make sure I was comfortable every single day that I was there. They would always do arts and crafts. And they would always have volunteers like the Hooters girls come and hang out with us. So that’s pretty much how I made the situation a little better.
Fox News: Some people may not know that Hooters girls go to hospitals and spend time with children. What was that experience like for you?
Novo: It’s actually pretty funny. My older sister had worked at Hooters for a while. So I already knew that they were more than just waitresses, but I didn’t know much about it. But at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, they would set up a plan for the week, and every day would be an event. I remember just one day being there, on the list, it said, “Join us for lunch with the Hooters girls” in one of the rooms they had.
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The Hooters girls would drop off food and talk to the patients. I remember hanging out with them for the first time and I spent a good couple of hours with them. It was nice because my mom, a single mom, was able to take a break, relax and eat some really good wings *laughs*. And I was able to spend time with these young women who took my mind off of where I was at the moment. I really connected with them.
They could have just dropped off the food and kept it moving. But they really took the time to sit down with me, learn what I was going through and talk to my mom. It made us feel at home. It made us feel like we weren’t at a hospital. In such a dark time, they really were so supportive and kind. It really made a huge difference during a scary and frustrating time.
Fox News: You went on to become a Hooters girl at age 18. Why?
Novo: You know, my experience was honestly a big part of why I wanted to become a Hooters girl. Because of what I saw at Joe DiMaggio. When I saw those girls taking time out of their day returning to the hospital, really speaking to the parents and hanging out with the patients, I knew it would be a great job.
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But I also wanted to give back to my community. That’s really all I’ve been wanting to do as a young girl, even before I entered Joe DiMaggio. And I felt Hooters could help me give back to the community while I worked.
Fox News: How important was it for you to give back, specifically to children?
Novo: Super, super important. Being one of those children who were in need at one point in my life, I knew I had to give back, no question. It was such a hard time for me to be at the hospital. I felt like some of my middle school years were just gone because we were all trying to figure out what was happening to me. And in the middle of all of that, these girls came and spent time with me. They never made me feel like I was a patient. And you don’t know how much that meant to me. So I want to do the exact same thing.
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Fox News: What are some of the things that you currently doing for children?
Novo: Unfortunately with the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t do too much now. However, we have been packaging food and taking it to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. We wave to the patients, blow air kisses – things like that through the window. We can’t really visit them, but we do what we can during these hard times. But before the pandemic, I was part of the American Cancer Society with Relay for Life. I’ve volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House. I’m really looking forward to when we can do more, especially after the year we’ve had.
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I remember I had gone to the hospital with my co-worker. We had just packaged food so we can drop it off. There was a little boy who was coming down. I guess he was just discharged from the hospital. He saw us and was just so excited.
It was such a beautiful moment because he was just a little boy. I don’t think he was older than nine years old. But I remember just how excited he was to see us and being able to walk out. We gave him a coloring book and his mom some wings and fries. It was just a little thing like a coloring book, but it was amazing to see his excitement, knowing he was being released. I remember that feeling. It really changes you and I want to be a part of that.
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Fox News: What are some misconceptions you feel people have about you as a Hooters girl?
Novo: I think people just jump to conclusions *laughs*. When they see a girl in shorts and a tank top, they automatically think it’s super provocative and super not what we should be doing right now. But we are so much more. I know so many girls who are studying and thinking about their futures. They have dreams of becoming lawyers and doctors. Some of them are also wives and mothers. There’s just so much more to Hooters than just the orange shorts and tank top.
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Fox News: Is it true you’re part of their calendar?
Novo: Yeah! It was a really fun and easy process… I got to wear my super cute swimsuits and shoot with a lot of the girls that I know… I remember seeing my photo and actually being speechless. I was working and completely elsewhere in my mind. But then a cake was brought in and they announced it to the entire [restaurant]. I just looked really, really beautiful. And it was amazing because before I was just a patient who looked up to these girls. Now I’m one of them.