Boy Battling Back From Crash Injuries Can Go to School in a Crisp New Uniform


n a mild spring day two and a half years ago, 10-year-old Malcolm went for a walk down the block to get an ice pop. On his way back, as he was crossing the street and eating the lime-flavored ice he had just bought, a passer-by he knew screamed at him to run. "Malcolm!"

But the warning came seconds too late. "I looked up and the truck was right there," Malcolm recalled. "It just hit me."

The pickup truck hit Malcolm on the street in front of his house, in Syracuse. He was knocked unconscious, lapsed into a coma and was hospitalized for six months. Doctors determined that he had a traumatic brain injury.

The left side of Malcolm's brain took the brunt of the impact, affecting movement on his right side. Malcolm, now 12, can still walk, but his once-confident gait has been replaced by an awkward, lurching stumble. Now he uses a wheelchair to travel long distances. His speech has been impaired. Though he understands questions quickly and responds immediately with facial gestures, it takes him a long time to utter sentences of just a few words as he draws out each syllable.

Malcolm's twin brother, Leroy, said he missed the way his brother used to be. "He's changed," Leroy said. "He doesn't go outside that much. He eats more junk food now, and he starts more trouble."

Despite showing signs of frustration with his brother's slowness, Leroy helps get him dressed in the morning, but only when Malcolm needs help.

Shortly after Malcolm returned home from the hospital, Leroy taught him how to write with his left hand, since Malcolm has lost fine- motor control in his right hand.

"One day I was like, `I want to be able to draw again,' so I started drawing with my right hand, and it kept on shaking," Malcolm recalled. "I said, `I wonder why my right hand shakes?' "

"Why don't you use your left?" Leroy had asked.

"Good idea," Malcolm recalled saying.

The boys have been in and out of foster care for much of their lives. They were living with their mother in Syracuse at the time of the accident, but have since moved to New York and been placed in the foster care system. Since October, they have lived with their foster mother, Danita Johnson, 32, in Harlem.

"He feeds himself, he bathes himself, he basically does everything by himself," Ms. Johnson said.

In October, when the boys began living with Ms. Johnson, she needed to send them to school in crisp new uniforms. Since they had none, she asked a social worker who had been working with the boys, Stephanie Knox, for help.

Ms. Knox, who works for New Alternatives for Children, a small nonprofit agency in Manhattan that assists families living with disabled children, used $300 from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund so the boys could have new sneakers and new uniforms - khaki pants and white button-down shirts.

New Alternatives for Children is a member of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of the seven local charities supported by the Neediest Cases Fund.

Despite the changes his body has undergone because of the accident, Malcolm said he is not angry. "I'm not upset," he said. "It's just hard."

Leroy, a seventh grader, said he did not know what he wanted to be when he gets older. He used to play baseball and football when he lived upstate, but now he plays basketball. Malcolm does not play sports, but has developed a flair for composing rap songs.

Staying true to the genre, Malcolm included a healthy dose of urban bravado, but not without a plea from a boy still adjusting to his disabilities:

I'm off the chain,
I walk with a cane.
I attract money and the honeys
like carrots attract bunnies,
like bees are attracted to honey.
I know I sound sort of funny,
but I didn't ask to speak this way.
This is the way God made me,
and if I have to say it again
I'm going to go crazy.

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