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'Lifting as We Climb' fund makes therapy possible

By Allyson Crowell
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

Malika Tolton plans to resume college classes soon and to drive there herself -- incredible developments, considering where she was a little more than a year ago. She started 2013 wearing a helmet to protect her brain, while doctors preserved a piece of her skull inside her abdomen. She stuttered and drooled, and the left side of face stubbornly hung slack when smiled.

CARES Therapy Clinic patient Malika Tolton holds her son, Brayden. Malika receives therapy to recover from a stroke, thanks to taxi rides provided by the Lifting as We Climb fund. 

The 25-year-old mother needs the free MUSC CARES Therapy Clinic to continue reclaiming her life after her stroke. And she needs help getting there.

When Malika’s father changed jobs, she lost her health care coverage and the twice-weekly outpatient rehabilitation treatments that insurance provided. She relies on the CARES Therapy Clinic, a student-run program for uninsured and underinsured patients, as her only therapy these days. And she depends on taxi fares provided through the Emily L. Moore and J. Herman Blake CARES Fund, “Lifting as We Climb,” to get her from her family’s Mount Pleasant home to the clinic downtown.

 “If it weren’t for the cab, I probably wouldn’t be able to come,” Malika said one recent evening. 

Dr. Herman Blake, MUSC Humanities Scholar in Residence, and Dr. Emily Moore, Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs in the MUSC College of Health Professions, established “Lifting as We Climb.” Their program, which operates through the employee-supported YES Family Fund, provides free transportation to patients who receive treatment there.

 “We’re interested in getting the person back home and back to work, so they can become what they were before – a contributing member of society,” said Dr. Moore. “The hope is that, as I help you, you will help someone else. It’s a continuum.”

Dr. Blake said they drew on the writings of human rights advocate Mary Church Terrell when naming the fund. He stressed that the program aims to give “a hand up, not a hand out.”

“When you think of the tragedies of the world, wherever there is suffering, there is someone who is reaching out to lift as we climb,” Dr. Blake said.

Malika was only 23 years old when she suffered her stroke, two months after giving birth to her son, Brayden. She lived in northern Virginia at the time and had planned a rare girls’ night out.

Malika felt a headache coming on but decided not to cancel her plans. She remembers the exact moment when her life changed – as she stood on the dance floor of a club in Washington and lost control of the left side of her body.

Paramedics scooped her out of the club and brought her to a hospital.  Her sister, a nurse, noticed that the left side of Malika’s face had drooped. Their mother started having strokes at age 40, and Malika’s sister demanded an MRI. The scan revealed what she already knew: Malika had experienced a stroke and, because of the delay in appropriate treatment, her brain had swelled.

Once she was stable enough to move, Malika’s father brought her and Brayden to Charleston for home therapy and cosmetic surgery. She also joined a support group through MUSC.

“Meeting other people who still can’t speak, I realize how blessed I am that I never lost my speech,” Malika said.

Before her stroke she worked as a billing supervisor and took some prerequisite classes for a nursing career. With her physical limitations, she now hopes to pursue a degree in allied health. She started coming to the CARES Therapy Clinic in November and most recently worked on a machine that tests her reflexes with lights.

“I want to finish school, get married and have more kids one day,” she said at the clinic. “But my short term goal is to drive again.”