Group uses art to help cancer patients, families

By By BRIANA HARRIS

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Artist Dustin Curtis said he was inspired to help with aTeam Ministries' Heart 2 HeART program after attending the event and witnessing its impact on the lives of pediatric cancer patients and their families.

"I saw what they were doing for the kids, so I contacted the organization and told them that I was interested in being involved with the program," Curtis said.

Heart 2 HeART is a program hosted by Homewood-based aTeam Ministries.

Local artists are paired with pediatric cancer patients to help them create a painting that expresses their journey with cancer. In turn, the artists create a painting inspired by the child they were paired with. The paintings are auctioned and the proceeds go toward helping the patients and their families.

Curtis is paired with 16-year-old Drew Davidson, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor at age 12.

Drew's painting was inspired by the American flags flown at Ground Zero after 9/11.

"When I was thinking about what I wanted to paint, a picture from 9/11 came to mind," he said. "Over all the rubbish there's an American flag representing that we can overcome terrorism."

In his painting, a child is standing atop a mountain and a gold flag, representing childhood cancer, is flying strong atop the mountain also. The painting represents victory over cancer, he said.

Drew said he uses art and music to help him cope with his feelings on a regular basis. He draws, plays the guitar and writes music.

"It's just to get out my emotions," he said. "You've got to have some sort of outlet to relieve stress."

One day he would like to record his music, he said.

Dr. Avi Maden-Swain, director of Children's Hospital of Alabama's Hope and Cope program, said art and music therapy is a great way for children and their families to relieve stress and anxiety.

All children with cancer or blood diseases at Children's Hospital go through the psychosocial program that uses art and music as therapy.

"Not every child wants to talk, so another way for them to express themselves might be through rhythm drumming," Maden-Swain said.

Sometimes when a child finishes a painting, a therapist helps the child figure out the feeling and emotion behind the painting, she said. Parents are invited to attend art and music therapy, too.

"It's not just the child that goes through cancer." Maden-Swain said. "It has a ripple effect through the entire family."

Terminal children may work along with their parents and siblings to create a special piece, so the family can have something to keep after the child dies, she added.

"It creates memories and something tangible that the families can hold on to," she said.

Although Heart 2 HeART enlists the help of new artists every year, Curtis said he wouldn't mind volunteering to help year after year.

"I would love to do it every year, but they're really respectful of the artists' time and they don't want to put a strain on anyone," he said.

Curtis' painting is inspired by an elk hunting trip Drew recently took with his father.

"I'm painting an elk," Curtis said. "I was thinking I could maybe get photos from their trip and incorporate it into my painting."

Curtis usually paints wildlife, and on occasion, Alabama football pieces. He works from his at-home studio and typically sells his art directly to collectors. He has worked as a full-time artist for about a year.

aTeam Ministries was started by Andy Thrower and his wife after their son Anderson, now 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2009.

Although Children's Hospital takes great care of their patients, Thrower said he saw some inadequacies that other families dealt with and had a desire to help.

In December 2009 aTeam Ministries was recognized as a nonprofit organization. Today the ministry has expanded to include a housing program for families outside of the Birmingham area to stay during treatment, a financial assistance program offering up to $1,000 per patient per year and fun activities for the children to participate in.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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