Filling a Prescription for a Mystery Malady

Sarah Mahoney
Sarah Mahoney

Sarah Mahoney is determined to walk again and the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach wants to help her.

Last May, Mahoney, an “A” student at Saddleback College, who can play at least four different musical instruments, was accepted to UC Berkeley as a music major. But muscle weakness that she initially attributed to a cold or the flu progressed to the point that she had difficulty walking and breathing. Hospitalized, Mahoney underwent a battery of tests, the first of many that have yet to lead to a diagnosis.

“When I first met Sarah, I felt a deep desire to help her,” said Ellie Tipton Ortiz, the club’s president, who knew where to go for aid. “Many of our members offered to donate their own time, talent, and services to help Sarah.”

After a year of consulting with neurologists, movement disorder and infectious disease specialists and still unable to walk, one thing is clear. Intensive physical therapy helps Mahoney breathe and has helped her regain lost muscle mass. But coming thus far tapped out Mahoney’s insurance; her insurer will no longer cover the $300 a week physical therapy sessions at UCI Medical Center.

Not one to give up, Mahoney, who lives with her parents in Laguna Hills, launched The Walking Project, a website the 21-year-old set up from her cell phone and put on Facebook, where people can donate to her physical therapy expenses. The response was quick and global, earning enough money to cover Mahoney’s costs until her insurance begins again and more.

With the extra funds, Mahoney hopes to purchase a machine for UCI’s outpatient physical therapy department that would stabilize her – and others trying to regain their ability to walk – on a treadmill. Now two therapists simulate the $10,000 plus machine. “A lot of patients could benefit from this,” Mahoney said.

While for months Mahoney was unable to move her hands, she has now resumed practicing and playing the guitar again. “My ultimate goal is to be healthy, have the chance to go to UC Berkeley, and walk away from disease,” she said.

To help Mahoney’s quest, The Woman’s Club is holding a fundraiser on Thursday, May 30 from 3 to 4:30 p.m., 286 St. Ann’s Dr. Mahoney will be present and coffee and dessert provided by Mangi con Amore, a favorite at Laguna’s Saturday farmer market.

A donation of $15 is requested.  The event is open to the community.

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