Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, visited Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio's Medical Center Friday to see how young cancer patients have benefited from an art therapy program.
Methodist Children’s Hospital has provided art therapy since 2012 through the national program Tracy’s Kids. It’s designed to help patients and families deal with the emotional stress of cancer treatment.
“We have a very large bone marrow transplant program here and these kids can be in the hospital for months at a time,” Robert Lenza, CEO of Methodist Children’s Hospital said. “Art therapy allows them to sometimes simply have a release.”
The hospital provides art therapy to at least 30 children a month, he said.
Karen Pence is a Tracy’s Kids board member and on Friday she toured the hospital, spoke with patients and praised the hospital's use of the program.
“This is not arts and crafts, this is a mental health profession,” she said. “These people have master’s and doctorate degrees.”
She first heard of art therapy and Tracy’s Kids in 2006 when she was a elementary school art teacher and joined the board in 2010.
“One of the things we find is that hospitals have a lot of expenses and so it’s difficult to fund the art therapy program sometimes,” Pence said. “Even though we know it aids in the healing process, it still isn’t something they necessarily have funds for.”
Tracy’s Kids funds the positions for art therapists like Courtney Martin, who works at Methodist Children’s Hospital.
“It really helps, I think, ground you in an experience where you’re getting a diagnosis or just your whole world is being turned upside down,” she said. “Having some type of control in that chaos really helps the kids.”
Emanii Younassoghlou, 14, of San Antonio, is one of those budding artists. Emanii was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last summer and can spend months at a time in the hospital for treatment.
“It makes me forget a lot about my problems and going through what I’m going through,” she said.
She said having someone like Martin removes some of the pressure of treatment.
“Just (her) being here and having her here for me has helped me so much and she’s been such a great support just get through a lot of stuff,” Emanni said.
Tracy’s Kids provides art therapy in at least eight hospitals in San Antonio, Washington D.C., Virginia and Baltimore.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules