Healing the Heart

We know that art therapy can help children with anger, stress and depression. Do you know that it can also help children with heart disease?

One such patient is an 18 year old girl profiled in the July 1 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal. At age 9, she had her second heart transplant. Her body was determined to reject the first heart. She went into cardiac arrest six times in 2 hours. She recalled being “awake” when the doctors were frantically trying to revive her.

Fearing that they would pull the plug on her, she tried desperately to tell the people in the hospital room that she was alive.Recuperating at home was no easy matter; she kept having recurring nightmares in which she watched herself suffering cardiac arrest.

Things, however, began to change when she took up the pen. She began writing down her thoughts about being helpless and scared. She turned these details into poems and stories. Eventually, the nightmares disappeared.

Now 18, she has successfully completed high school and is looking forward to nursing school in the fall.She credits her writing for helping her deal with her heart and surgery. It was her creative expression through writing that enabled her to transform something frightening and painful into a positive goal – to make something of her life.

Researchers are taking note of the positive relationship between art therapy and the heart. Some current clinical data on this relationship include the following:

a) Psychosocial factors like depression and stress have been found to be strong risk factors for heart attacks. In fact, these emotional factors are considered as strong as physiological factors like high blood pressure and diabetes.

According to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, depression increases the risk of heart disease more than genetics or the environment. This means that any intervention that can reduce depression can benefit the heart. Scientists are working to determine how artistic expression can be considered a valid form of clinical intervention to be used along with exercise, diets and medication for reducing heart disease.

b) Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia have found that music can offer substantial benefit to patients who are stressed and anxious about undergoing treatment for coronary heart disease. Listening to music decreases blood pressure, heart rate and levels of anxiety in heart patients. In fact, music therapy is getting increased recognition as a viable form of treatment for depression and mood.

Take for example, Justin P, a young boy born with a heart defect. At 8 months, he had heart surgery. Since he was five years old, he has been experiencing attention and behavior problems at school. Unable to “settle down” in the classroom, Justin nevertheless responds well to music, especially songs with a strong upbeat tempo.

His parents decided to place him in a music therapy class when he turned six. Now 7, Justin can play the piano; he is more focused in school; he is just starting to read and he is a happier child.

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