Watercolor memories


Steve  Turchan, a Neenah, Wis., psychiatrist, considers himself a lucky man, with a good life, a great family and career, and faith. Any health issues he's experienced, he says, are just ‘bumps in the road of life.’ That said, he's had quite the bump-filled journey.

According to a story in the Post-Crescent newspaper, the last 28 years of Turchan’s life have included a litany of medical issues. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 24, followed by eyebladder and prostate cancer, a heart attack on his birthday in 2009, triple bypass surgery, 11 stents and two bouts of sepsis. Then, this past March, Turchan learned that his heart was failing, and he would need a transplant.

In July, as he packed his bags to begin the transplant waiting game at Mayo Clinic, he came prepared to do something he hadn't done in quite some time., Although Turchan had been taught to paint at the age of four by his mom, he could count on one hand the number of paintings he's done since his health odyssey began. So along with the usual toiletries and whatnot, he also packed painting supplies. 

In the months leading up to his Thanksgiving Day heart transplant, Turchan’s hospital room began to look like an art studio, attracting notice from other patients and their families. He created more than 140 paintings while he was in the cardiac intensive care unit on the Saint Marys campus, although he says he still has about 25 left that he wants to paint for ICU staff as a way to say thank you. “The five months I was there went by much quicker than most people would think,” Turchan told the Post-Crescent. “They made sure my mental well-being was being taken care of as well as my physical. ... I always felt very protected and safe.”

The paintings also gave him a way to connect with other patients and families, he said. "They’d come by crying … and thanked me for the artwork. We would talk and we would connect, and that connection kind of forged a bond ... I also used my background in psychology to kind of help them through the grieving process.”

In early November, the ICU staff was concerned that Turchan was having too many visitors as his energy level started decreasing. But Turchan wasn’t having any of that. “I said, this is what I do,” he tells the newspaper. “Our society is so afraid of death, but we approach it so wrong. We don’t have to be afraid of death. Sometimes your closest moments and the warmest moments you have are when you connect at those times, and I felt very honored they let me in and we talked.”

Turchan was discharged in mid-December, but remains in Rochester for 90 days of rehab, weekly lab work and heart biopsies, and, we assume, more painting.

You can check out a slide show of his paintings below. While you’re here, paint us a picture by sharing your comments, and maybe share this story with others via our handy social media tools.

Click on the play button to begin the slide show. Click again to see larger images.