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Impact Spotlight

Dr. Sara Kraft, CHP '96: Instructor works with students providing care at free clinic

April 30, 2013
By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

Dr. Sara Kraft (right) works with CARES Clinic patient Melissa Robinson, who lost mobility after a stroke. She relearned how to walk at the clinic. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A throng of physical therapy students gathered in a circle around Assistant Professor Dr. Sara Kraft, spitting phrases and waiting for instructions. 

“Word on the street is she’s neuro.”

“We’ve got an ankle fracture follow-up.”

“She’s a talker.”

Kraft addressed each one, as they peeled away from the circle, clipboards in hand and ready to open the CARES Clinic for yet another Tuesday night. The free, student-run clinic operates from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Tuesday, after the physical therapy gym on Ashley Avenue closes for business. Aspiring physical and occupational therapists work there until 10 p.m. or later, often after a full day of class, filling out paperwork on their patients.

They treat the uninsured and the underinsured, meaning they help people with no other opportunity for treatment and people who need a little extra care after their benefits cut them off. The students and their instructors collected six months of data from the clinic and, according to Kraft, they’ve saved this community about $800,000 in health care costs, in addition to keeping some of these patients out of overburdened emergency rooms.

Students rely on donations and call around to vendors, asking for everything from ultrasound gel to therapy bands to wound care products. Instructors encourage them to volunteers at CARES, but time spent at the clinic doesn’t affect their grades.

Students who volunteer at the CARES Clinic help a patient practice walking up and down stairs.

“If it’s going to be a true service, it can’t be a requirement,” said Kraft, who graduated from the College of Health Professions in 1996. Plus, students say the volunteer hours help them as much as the patients.

Billy Berkes, who graduated in May, started coming to CARES when he realized he needed more practice after his first clinical rotation. Now a clinician with MUSC’s inpatient physical therapy program, he still volunteers at the clinic across the street twice a month.

“It was critical to my development,” Berkes said. “It’s a no-pressure environment for students to just be themselves.  Besides rotations, which are graded, this is the only opportunity to practice, which is so crucial. You get a sense of real life, real people and their problems."

Sometimes students see the magic when they solve those problems. First-year physical therapy student Margaret Mueller worked with a stroke victim confined to a wheelchair the first time she volunteered. 

“I watched her taking her first steps,” Mueller said.

The woman, Melissa Robinson, lost mobility in her left side after the stroke. For nine months, she never walked. She arrived at the CARES Clinic one recent Tuesday, ready for a repeat performance on her feet, with Mueller ready to help her.

“I’m so sick of this chair,” Robinson said. “I’m ready to give it back.”

The gym stays busy late into the night on Tuesdays. One recent night while Robinson worked on standing, Kraft spoke in Spanish to a man lying on the other side of a long therapy bed, and a woman on a treadmill across the room pushed herself to catch a basketball while walking.

Stroke victim Nancy Hamilton worked her way up and down a set of stairs with students Blake Bennett and Samantha Kubinski spotting her. Hamilton asked, after each set, “One more time?”

Kubinski nodded after each set and smiled. “A couple more times.”

The CARES Clinic launched in 2005 in Mount Pleasant but, until July 2011, the physical and occupational therapy students worked within the confines of a small office. They could see only one or two patients a week and without the necessary equipment to help those patients overcome the injuries tormenting them.

The students, disappointed by the level of care they could provide, asked to stop the CARES clinic. Instead, Kraft lobbied for space that her students and their patients needed.

The occupational and physical therapy arm of the CARES clinic now serves 16 patients each week in a full-service gym with exercise machines, therapy beds and private consultation rooms.

“I really, truly believe advocacy is important,” Kraft said. “There are a lot of cracks to fall through.”


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