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Makayla Barlow is a remarkable young adult—a senior honors student at Campus International High School in downtown Cleveland. She’s a runner on the school team and with the Cleveland Heights Tigers Club where she took part in the AAU Region 4 Qualifier in June 2021. She also works two part-time jobs to save for college.

Living on Cleveland’s east side with her mother, Natasha Lovelace, her 8-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister, Makayla’s life was typical of a busy teen on the cusp of adulthood.

Until July 10, 2021.

That morning, Makayla passed her driver’s license test. Later that day, while driving to one of her part-time jobs, she was shot in a random act of violence in East Cleveland. The bullet entered the right side of Makayla’s head. She was rushed to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center where she had surgery to remove the bullet. She had a craniotomy—the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain for surgery. Doctors saved Makayla, who suffered stroke-like symptoms. Movement on her dominant left side, though, was affected.

By August, Makayla was transferred to MetroHealth’s Rehab Institute for inpatient rehabilitation therapy.

“So many people were recommending MetroHealth’s TBI rehab, even the UH doctors,” says her mom, Natasha.

This was their first experience with MetroHealth, and as soon as they walked in, they knew they’d made the right choice.

“When we first got to the hospital, the janitor was the first person we met,” Natasha remembers. “He made sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed in the room.”

Now, the same strength Makayla had shown balancing school, sports and work were shining through again as she fought the hardest battle of her life. By the end of August, she’d progressed to outpatient therapy twice a week with her team, which included Deanna Bouman (physical therapy), Liz Galvin (occupational therapy) and Melissa Bostwick-Belanger (speech therapy).

Over the new few months, Liz sees Makayla thrive. Makayla is able to stop wearing her blinged-out helmet that had protected her skull for several months. Therapy sessions focus on balance, cognition and motor skills. And each day, Makayla is becoming more independent, relearning basic skills like dressing and caring for herself.

Liz credits Natasha for instilling in Makayla the strength she needs for her recovery. Likewise, Natasha credits the MetroHealth rehab team for helping Makayla stay positive and focused throughout her difficult recovery.

“It’s hard not to consider the therapists she’s working with—they’re such a big part of her life now,” Natasha says. “Reflecting such a positive attitude on her helps her keep a positive attitude, as opposed to being upset about what happened and things not being how they used to be. Her attitude is definitely getting better.”

Right after Thanksgiving, Makayla met one of her goals: She got back to school—first online and then in-person on January 20, 2022. Makayla has participated in a handful of activities at school—her peers surprised her by electing her Homecoming Queen—but her sights are set on graduating with her class.

Even more, Makayla is on track to complete her outpatient therapy sessions by spring 2022.