REHAB Art Proves To Be The Best Therapy For Mililani Patient

Susan Fonseca paints during the Creative Arts Program at REHAB. Photo courtesy of the hospital.

Susan Fonseca paints during the Creative Arts Program at REHAB. Photo courtesy of the hospital.

Susan Fonseca thought she was having a stroke. The 55-year-old Mililani resident woke the morning of March 22, 2011, tried to get out of bed and fell to the floor. She couldn’t move. Her arms and legs didn’t work, and she felt as if her body was on fire. Taken to Straub Hospital, she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Fonseca did not have a stroke, but she was diagnosed with ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament — a spinal cord injury that left her immobile. The treatment seemed to be as painful as the illness, as doctors had to shave off part of her vertebrae to remove pressure from the spinal cord.

“It was a scary feeling, being normal one day and the next not knowing what would happen,” admitted Fonseca. “Everything was on fire. It was intense pain that I will never forget.”

After two weeks at Straub, she entered Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific to begin the long process of regaining the use of her arms and legs. As part of her occupational therapy, she was entered into the facility’s Creative Arts Program.

Progress was slow. In the beginning she could neither write nor hold a brush, as her hand was closed by the ailment. She worked with balls and Play-doh, and eventually finishing her first painting — a thank-you note to her therapist, Angela.

Painting, as it turned out, was the perfect treatment both medically and spiritually.

“Art is therapeutic. My creativity was dormant for a long time, but this program helped it to blossom again.”

Fonseca’s art, and that of other patient artists, can be found and purchased on REHAB’s website. She said seeing others complete their projects inspired her to get healthier and be a better artist.

“Everyone there is a miracle,” she said. “Art gives you that outlet to express yourself. Some people just hold it in, but when you put the paint-brush to the canvas, you just go for broke.”

Fonseca’s talent has not gone unnoticed.

Encouraged to submit a painting for the Louis Vuitton Arts Education scholarship, the former teenage artist won a $1,000 scholarship Dec. 4, one that she plans to use for art classes at Honolulu Museum of Art.

REHAB partnered with Louis Vuitton in 1994 to develop the Creative Arts Program to complement existing therapy programs, to enhance the rehabilitative process and to improve the quality of life for patients.

Since its inception, at least 700 patients have taken and benefitted from more than 70,000 art sessions.

“I truly believe that this art program is awesome because we go through a lot of pain,” she said. “We were all normal before. You never know what the future holds.”