Of mosquito bites, healing, and hope

Terrie Taylor Faculty Traverse City, Michigan, and Blantyre, Malawi

Terrie Taylor has dedicated the last two decades to researching malaria in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease kills as many as two million children each year. A University Distinguished Professor of internal medicine in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, Taylor spends six months of each year–the rainy season–in Malawi where she leads a team that conducts research on malaria and treats patients infected with the disease, the vast majority of whom are children.

Her efforts are paying off. A partnership formed by MSU, Malawi, and GE Healthcare delivered the African country’s first and only MRI unit, which now allows Taylor and her colleagues to see inside malaria patients like never before. With a clearer picture of the disease, Taylor is helping save lives, but she continues to search for more effective means of treatment and, better yet, a cure.

A new $9.1 million federal grant awarded to Taylor and her team in July 2010 will help them create new prevention and control strategies in Malawi.

Terrie Taylor
University Distinguished Professor of internal medicine
Traverse City, Michigan, and Blantyre, Malawi

[Baby crying]

My ultimate goal is to figure out what is actually killing these kids with cerebral malaria and coming in with an intervention that can yank more of them back from the brink. Oh, gosh, let’s see. The first malaria season was 1986–87, so we’re coming up on 25 years. I’m heart and soul in this for six months a year and I live and breathe the research ward and the patients who are here. And it’s an intensive immersion into the clinical world, but then I leave and I go back to East Lansing and I don’t take care of—I have no patient care responsibilities in the U.S. So that’s a kind of a time to rest and recharge.

[People chattering]

She’s very sick. She’s a TB patient, so she’ll be here for several months, probably. And her temperature? Any change? Any improvement? No fevers? Well, that’s an improvement. I hope she gets better. I hope she gets better. I think if we are on the right track in terms of her treatment, she stands a good chance.

Every year there are several children who are just gut-wrenchers, kids that you didn’t expect to die or kids that you’d become attached to or a parent who’s obviously crushed by the loss and some are more painful than others.

And it’s hard and sometimes I just have to say we just need to take a break. We’re not going to admit anybody. We’re all just going to take the day and have a cup of tea and talk about it and regroup and move on, because you can’t absorb that much loss over and over and over without resting and processing it and talking about it. As painful as it is to suffer along with the parents, I would feel worse if I didn’t feel anything.

[People chattering]

The moms stay. The moms often stay with the patient and then the next younger child because they can’t leave that child alone at home. It’s utterly astonishing to see the patience and perseverance of these mothers through thick and thin with their kids. It’s really humbling.

Directly by providing patient care, we’re saving lives. We are saving lives. These are kids that would not survive were they not able to be looked after on a ward that is as well staffed and as well supplied as our ward. So on that direct, immediate level, lives have been saved. It takes a long time, though. That’s the thing and that’s why I’m so appreciative of the fact that Michigan State has hung in there with me for all these years, because that’s how long it takes. I’m grateful to be here.

I’m grateful to be received. I’m happy that the patients laugh along with the jokes, and I’m pleased that the work has been useful in Malawi, but I think I would never feel rooted here. So I’m glad that my roots are in Michigan. I would feel adrift if I didn’t have a strong base back at home.


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