The art of healing

By By LIsa Britton November 23, 2012 09:40 am

The innovative program that helps kids is coming to Baker City

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Isabella Evans giggles as the string of zucchini — cut to resemble spaghetti — gets longer and longer.

She stretches her arm as high as she can, attempting to fill a cup before the mixture spills over the side.

This participation, this ownership of a prepared dish — she shredded the carrots and dished up portions — is part of the philosophy of KIDS-HEAL, a program coming to Baker City in January with the mission “to improve the physical and creative health of children in Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

And it’s coming because of Isabella.

This story starts back in February 2011, when a diagnosis came to explain why she was so tired and sick with fevers.

She had T-cell leukemia, and was flown by air ambulance from Baker City to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

When the disease didn’t respond to treatment in 30 days, the Evans family got more bad news — this type of leukemia had a variation in genome, which made it resistant to the chemotherapy.

On July 5, 2011, Isabella had a stem cell transplant, which replaced her sick bone marrow.

“She has two DNAs,” says her mom, Cherie.

They were in Portland for 7 months, with more than two of those at Doernbecher.

That’s where Isabella met Frank Etxaniz, who founded the Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP) after he was a volunteer artist-in-residence at Doernbecher.

The nonprofit CHAP has now been modified 13 ways in nine hospitals on three continents.

KIDS-HEAL is the second phase to CHAP, and Etxaniz has contacted children he met at Doernbecher to help him implement the program around Oregon and Southwest Washington.

That’s where Isabella comes in.

“The way she used art in the hospital was unlike anyone else,” he says. “She took the equipment in her room and turned it into art.”

Like making syringes into chandeliers. 

And turning her window into an art gallery.

“Her love of art inspired others,” he says. “Isabella is a rock star wherever she goes.”

This is how he describes KIDS-HEAL: “a state-wide, school-based, student-driven, mother-run after-school arts-plus-healthcare learning laboratory.”

The program “partners children living with long-term healthcare issues with local artists, athletes and cooks to deliver interactive arts and healthcare programming directly into schools.”

Once a month, for 90 minutes, youth will gather for nutrition lessons, art and an education component that focuses on a different condition each month — cancer, diabetes, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, autism, Down syndrome and more.

Those who know the most — the kids who have or are living with those conditions— will do the educating.

“Where kids can help teach kids,” Etxaniz says. “A number of them have been to death’s door and back, and they have something to say.”

Right now they will focus on students at South Baker Elementary and Baker Middle School. (Isabella, 13, was at South Baker when she was diagnosed, and is now a student at BMS.)

At the beginning, students will take a survey about health conditions to determine a baseline of knowledge. The curriculum will be developed with those results in mind.

“KIDS-HEAL promotes social change, builds community, engages youth and volunteers by creating opportunities for everyone to see children beyond their disease, diagnosis or disability and to be inspired by their compassion, creativity and courage,” Etxaniz said.

All children are welcome.

“KIDS-HEAL is open to every child, and adult, who wants to learn how to live a healthier, more creative and engaging life,” he said.

This is a three-year pilot program, and he will be recruiting help from the community.

For example, he’s looking for artists willing to donate 90 minutes of their time, two times a year.

Etxaniz grew up in Ontario, and has a special place in his heart for rural Oregon.

“There’s a way people in rural Oregon gather around a cause in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else,” he says.

For more information, visit the website kids-heal.org or call 503-901-7082.