- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (AP) - Mary Rickard makes her home in Killen, just a short distance from Shoal Creek. The lush greenery from the wooded countryside and the flowing currents of the creek meet to form a serene pastoral escape.

Despite being away from that place for more than a month, Rickard, unconsciously, she said, went back there during an art class at J.W. Sommer Rehabilitation Unit at Shoals Hospital.

Rickard had a stroke that left the left side of her body paralyzed. She’s regained movement in her thumb and two fingers in her left hand, and just this week began taking steps with her physical therapist and therapy assistants.

So, when Rickard picked up the chalk pastels laid beside her on a small table, she did not intend to go home. But, the 12-by-12 inch piece of stiff white art board brings to mind the idyllic setting of her home.

She blended the blue chalk pastels to recreate a clear sky. Greens and browns intermingled and blended in the loose shape of trees, brush and grass.

Rickard never considered herself an artist, but looking at the scene she created, she said maybe now she is. She has colored pencils and coloring sheets in her inpatient room, and asked where she can get pastels like the ones she used once she is discharged.

The art program, called Brushstrokes, gave her an escape from the grueling and taxing physical and occupational therapy exercises she goes through every day. The program is moderated by Kristin Husainy, a trained art teacher who volunteers to help with the program.

“Each patient has different abilities and different limitations so each experience is different,” Husainy said. “This is something different that allows them to get out of their rooms or therapy, and it’s a little escape.”

Providing an art escape gives patients recovering from a debilitating stroke a break from the demands of the rehabilitation program. It’s good mental and physical break, but it is not void of therapeutic effects.

Fine motor skills, grip and control all are important in art. Those also are skills lost or diminished after a stroke.

Donna Coots, an occupational therapy assistant at J.W. Sommers, said many of the skills practiced in more physical therapy tasks, can be reinforced through art projects.

On Monday, she worked one-on-one with Carolyn Weatherly. Weatherly’s stroke was on the right side of her brain, and now her brain does not communicate with the left side of the body. She is experiencing left side neglect, a syndrome in which the brain does not communicate with one side of the body. The brain has to be retrained, Coots said.

Weatherly said she was not an artist but had fond memories of the one art class she took in college at Auburn.

Weatherly used water color pencils and a small brush dipped in water. Using the water color pencils are like colored pencils but the color laid down can be spread and blended using a wet brush.

Weatherly drew a line with the water pencil on her watercolor paper using a straight edge created with a folded piece of paper. Holding the small brush in her right hand, she dipped the bristles into a cup of water and brought the brush to the paper and began spreading the blue color with small upward brush strokes.

Her tendency, because of the left-side neglect, was to move right down the line she had drawn. Coots suggested using a finger on her left hand as a guide to move the brush down the line to the left.

Weatherly did as Coots instructed and with deliberate intent painted down the line to the left. At times, she would fall back into the tendency to paint only moving to the right.

“It is all about crossing the mid-line,” Coots said, pointing to the middle of her forehead. “I am working with her on using both hands to send the message to her brain that both hands are engaged in an activity.”

The program is new. Only three sets of stroke rehab patients have had the chance to spend an hour or two painting or drawing, but Lauren Carpenter, quality assurance nurse for the rehabilitation unit, said the effect already has been seen.

Yes, it replicates parts of their ongoing therapy sessions, but the mental empowerment is just as important, said Carpenter, who studied art before focusing on nursing.

The art frees their mind to allow for emotional and physical breakthroughs, she said. The time doing art becomes so meaningful and pleasurable, they overcome the physical pain and frustration caused by the stroke, she said.

“For many of them, it takes them away from the fact that they are in a hospital,” she said.

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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