Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)

Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP) brings the healing power of art to children and families facing medical challenges. Our mobile team of teaching artists work in local hospitals, clinics and community art spaces. Research demonstrates the importance of art in the healing process: It helps patients and family members cope, encourages compliance with treatment plans, increases self-confidence, encourages self-expression, reduces stress, pain, isolation and anxiety and promotes quality of life.
Feb 23, 2017

Old and New

This summer marked CHAP's 10-year anniversary. It's a big milestone. When I stop to think about all the families we have worked with, it's staggering.

On a recent morning, I checked on my group of patients. I came to a certain room and as I explained what I was there for, the patient stopped me and said, "Remember me?  It's Jennifer*." The minute she said it, it all came flashing back. She looked so different. Thinner. Older. Older beyond her years. Just a few years ago, CHAP worked with this young lady over at the children's hospital. Now, she's a young adult and it took me by surprise to see her again. It was her voice that triggered my memory the most.

Jennifer did come & join me in the Family Room. She was so sweet and eager to do art. Instantly, her gaze was drawn to a familiar sight - a small Spirit House. It was perched on top of the refrigerator, right across the room from her.  I gathered colorful tissue paper and our special blend of water and Elmer's glue  If you get the ratios just right, it should resemble the consistency of milk. Jennifer got right to business, applying colors she liked + cutting little hearts out of the tissue paper. While she is hard at work, another patient enters the room. I have met this patient several times over the past few months. I am quite taken with her. She's so upbeat, fun and creative. Her name is Yvette*.  

The two women start talking. I find this to be an incredible pairing. Yvette is crafting another stunning necklace and Jennifer is slowly covering the plain cheesecloth surface with more pleasurable bursts of color. Yvette has this great style where she very thoughtfully selects her beads from one color palette and she she'll sneak in one random bead of a fully different color. This has become her signature move. The two artists could not be more different.  

Jennifer asks what kind of cancer Yvette is being treated for and how she found out she had cancer. It's such an unraveling. I will never forget a mom saying that when her young son was diagnosed it was "such an assault." I recall this phrase time & time again when I hear people speak of this moment. An assault. Yvette shares her story, freely. Jennifer tells her long and ongoing battle with cancer. There's no fairness to any of it.

The women are with me for an hour, perhaps more. When Yvette goes to leave, Jennifer says, "You are amazing and strong woman." Yvette receives this compliment with grace as she turns around and smiles., "I don't know it any other way."   

Jennifer says to me, "CHAP is great. You're like family!" While on FaceTime with her mom, she spins her camera around so that her mom can see me. A familiar face indeed. She thanks me for being there to make art with her daughter.  

Jennifer takes acrylic paint, a small canvas and some beads back to her room. We ran out of time, so she wants to be stocked up. Our art program returns in 1 week and those days are long for patients like Jennifer who are thirsty to do art, get out of their rooms and meet some of their amazing peers.

As I get ready to go, I pass Jennifer's nurse in the hallway. She remarks on Jennifer's energy before and after CHAP.  She said at the beginning of the morning, Jennifer was sullen and hard to communicate with. After being in the Family Room, the nurse could see such an improvement in Jennifer's energy. CHAP really enlivened her and improved her mood. What a pleasure to get that kind of support from the nursing staff. People are noticing the difference art can make. I was sure to give Yvette some credit, too, for helping make the experience so positive.

* Names have been changed to protect patient privacy 

Links:

Oct 27, 2016

Creating camaraderie + healing through art

In addition to serving children, CHAP also works with adults admitted to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. We wanted to share an experience from earlier this month. Thank you for making stories like these possible!! --- Sarah Panetta, Executive Director

________________________________________________________

"We Are All Connected"

Camaraderie.  Noun.  Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

This morning after being at work for just 10 minutes, a patient named Cathy* says to me, "This is a wonderful ministry you have here." She speaks these words as she glides into the Family Room and her eyes pour over the paint, beads and mandalas. Cathy places her walker off to the side and pulls a chair up to the table. "They almost seem... alive,"  she declares as she fingers through the collection of beads. She quickly decides to make a bracelet for her daughter. In order to select just the right colors, Cathy takes a picture of the bead assortment. With the help of her smartphone, she sends the photo to her daughter. Within minutes, her daughter replies: "Yellow with blue accents on a bracelet, please." I tell her this is the hunt & gather phase, as Cathy sorts through all the yellow and aqua blue beads. She is totally pleased with the selection. The increase in her energy is tangible. "This gives some purpose to the day. Oh, my goodness!"

As Cathy completes her bracelet, another woman named Maura* enters the Family Room. I have met her before on this unit. Her best friend Betty* has entered into "comfort care". This is denoted with a laminated piece of paper with the image of a white dove on the patient's door. Thankfully, the staff has already alerted me to the fact that we are losing this dear soul and very soon. Maura's heart is heavy with her friend's impending death. Cathy has met Maura, too. They talk over the bead table. Cathy is extremely sweet and supportive. The 3 of us start talking about singing. I tell Maura that Cathy has written a song and performed it for me. With not much cajoling, Cathy says she will sing it for her. Maura begs her to wait until she can grab Betty's sister, who will surely want to hear this.

Maura produces not just one, but two of Betty's sisters. A patient's spouse has joined our group. Our friend Cathy stands up in front of the five of us. This lady's strong and steady voice fills the room and surely trickles down the hallway. We're all captivated. At one point in the performance, she rips off her knit hat (shaped like a cupcake, no less) for dramatic flair. Her wild and thin hair is set free with this gesture. Cathy is a true performer and she has found her audience. We all clap for her. We learn that Betty was a fabulous singer, a lyric soprano, as one of her sisters tells me. I had been visiting Betty for months, but never knew that detail about her. This generates much conversation about Betty's beautiful voice. Even on the phone, her friends loved the sound of Betty's voice. Cathy wishes that she & Betty could have sung together.

The spouse who slipped in earlier has silently made a bracelet while Cathy was singing. She had been in the background through much of this, but then started opening up. She knew she had entered a safe place in that Family Room. She told us her story, her husband's sudden illness, how she strolls the halls of this hospital every time her husband is resting, trying to keep busy. Her journey is met and held with tenderness by the other women in the room. Cathy says, "This is what this floor is missing - camaraderie. But CHAP brought it with the bead table." Cathy turns to me and says, "Why aren't you here every day?"

When the group starts to say their good-byes, there are hugs and the extension of prayers in all directions. One of Betty's sisters says, "We are all connected." Everyone is amazed by each person's strength and perseverance in the face of cancer. No one's experience is minimized. Every woman honors the next. The time passes as a trifecta of crying, laughing and smiling. They all bear witness to each other. The stories are all slightly different, but in the end the same.  "That was inspirational," adds Betty's sister.

The spouse stays with me to make a few more things. She realizes I have alphabet beads and she wishes to make something with her husband's name on it. She collects more beads, blues and reds, the letters of his name. She helps me tidy up. She's so grateful for the interactions with these great women this morning. It felt like a sisterhood. It was. It is.

Links:

Aug 1, 2016

Get well soon - helping a family

Puppet brothers created in-hospital
Puppet brothers created in-hospital

In 2015, we recorded 7,506 healing art experiences in the hospital. During our first 10 years, we've provided nearly 40,000 art experiences in-hospital - always free of charge to the patients and families we serve. We wanted to share one of those stories with you, as an example of what your gifts make possible. 

THANK YOU!

*****************

On a recent Monday morning, I worked with two young siblings in the waiting area outside Pediatric Surgery. The parents and children had been led to the waiting room by Beth, one of the Child Life Specialists at Doernbecher. They were anticipating a long wait while their older brother was in surgery. As she delivered them, Beth extended her arm toward CHAP and told the boy + girl they could make jewelry while they waited for their big brother. The children came to the table right away. After each item they finished, they proudly scurried back to their mom + dad to show off their work.

The next day, I was on the 9th Floor to create art with post-surgery patients. The Child Life Specialist on this unit, Kim, told me she had a child she wanted to bring down to do art with CHAP. We started rounding up patients to join us and quickly had a full Play Room. Within a few minutes, I saw the little brother from the day before. I remembered his name instantly and he smiled back in recognition.

Kim brought the patient she'd mentioned and it just so happened to be the big brother of the child I'd worked with the day before. 

When he arrived, he was full of tears. Kim explained that the boy needed to drink a lot of fluid and he was very upset about it. If he wasn't able to drink enough, we both knew the alternative would be putting in an NG tube - which goes up the nose, down the back of the throat and into the stomach. We wanted to help him avoid that!

The patient continued to cry. He seemed uncomfortable, clutching his abdomen. In pain at the thought of drinking so much, he moaned. The younger brother looked wide-eyed at him from across the table. 

I re-directed the little one to a project. Kim made a proposition to the patient: “Put 5 beads on your necklace and then take a sip of your drink,” which was medicine with Gatorade to help improve its taste. The patient agreed, and this worked for a little while. 

A few minutes later I heard, "Make 5 brush strokes on your painting and then get some more fluid in you.” It didn’t look like the patient could bear it much longer. Kim recognized she was at a crossroads. 

Kim explained very clearly to the patient that if he didn’t drink this certain amount, the nurse would need to put in an NG tube. He didn’t really know what that meant. Kim said, "Would you like me to show you one?" She grabbed a sample from her medical play supplies. The patient examined the tube at the art table. Kim described how the thin plastic tube would be inserted up his nose, down the back of his throat and into his stomach. The patient considered all this and said, "Okay. I give up on this drinking. I agree to the NG tube." Kim, though surprised, was pleased the patient came to this decision on his own.

The patient had to leave the Play Room to get the NG tube placed. The little brother stayed. He happily made a puppet and used paint. When it was time to go, I said to him, "I'm so glad I got to see you two days in a row. You're such a good artist!" We rolled the CHAP Art Cart out of the Play Room and shifted the tables & chairs back into their original places. I said to him, "I hope your big brother gets well soon." He smiled and went off to reconnect with the rest of the family.

As we've reported before, so much of the time what patients - especially pediatric patients - crave is CONTROL. Often creating art provides the outlet they need to make decisions and take a measure of control over their situation. In this case, making art created space for the patient to interact with the Child Life specialist and gradually gain some control in a difficult situation. Creating art gave the little brother space to manage his fears and worries about what his older brother was experiencing.

Thank you for making it possible for us to do this work!

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