Transplant patient says Arts at the Bedside ‘helped me have a reason not to give up’

Katie White

Katie White was hospitalized for more than three months while waiting for a heart transplant. She credits Mayo's Arts at the Bedside — and her nurses — with helping her through the long wait. The art program even inspired a new career: Katie now sells the jewelry that she began making at Mayo Clinic.

Katie White's world had become very small, bound by the four walls of her hospital room at Mayo Clinic.

Not so long ago she'd had a big, beautiful life in Grand Marais on Minnesota's North Shore, working as a nurse and spending time outdoors with her husband and dogs.

But now Katie, who was born with aortic stenosis, was in heart failure. She'd already had six heart surgeries in her 38 years. Now she needed a heart transplant. And she'd need to stay in the hospital until she got one.

The waiting was a challenge, each day feeling like the one before. But that changed the day Robin Anderson knocked on Katie's door.  

Anderson, a visual artist with Mayo's Arts at the Bedside program, arrived with a cart full of art materials, and an invitation: Would Katie be interested in doing something creative?

She would indeed.

Anderson offered small canvasses and watercolors that day. A week later, she knocked on Katie's door again, bringing origami supplies. Another visit, she brought polymer clay.

"The art program shaped my transplant journey completely," Katie says. "It distracted me from feeling sick and gave me something to be proud of. It helped me have a reason not to give up."

A different kind of medicine

Arts at the Bedside is part of Mayo's Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine in Rochester. The program connects interested patients with visual artists, writers, and musicians, giving them a chance to create or reflect. Arizona and Florida have similar programs.

While it may not have the power to cure, there's no doubt that art is good medicine. That's why staff can request a consult for a patient through Plummer Chart.

"I've had patients tell me how wonderful it is to focus on something other than health concerns, even if for a short time. It's amazing to see people enjoy moments at a time you wouldn't think they had any moments to enjoy," Anderson says. "Art can be especially beneficial to people who are anxious or depressed about their hospital stay."

Patients are able to express their vulnerability and fear about hospitalization in a creative, purposeful and unique way.

Lauren Mattson

Lauren Mattson, one of Katie's nurses, has witnessed the program's impact firsthand.

"I noticed a sparkle in Katie's eye when we would chat about her projects," Mattson says.

She's seen the impact the program has had on other patients as well.

"Arts at the Bedside can provide a sense of accomplishment and inspire imagination," Mattson says. "Patients are able to express their vulnerability and fear about hospitalization in a creative, purposeful and unique way. Mayo has lovely art, statues and courtyards, and it's wonderful to have a way to bring art even closer to our patients."

Earrings made with heart

Mattson and her colleagues have tangible reminders of just what Arts at the Bedside can do for their patients.

Shortly before she got the life-changing news that she'd be getting a new heart, Katie began making earrings out of polymer clay. She gave them to family and friends, including her nurses.

"My nurses were my rocks," Katie says. "They took care of me like a patient but supported me in a way that went beyond that. My family couldn't be at the hospital with me all the time, so my nurses were like my family for three months."

That family feeling was mutual says Heather Borchert.

My nurses were my rocks. They took care of me like a patient but supported me in a way that went beyond that.

Katie White

"Katie brought so much joy to so many nurses," Borchert says. "One of my favorite memories was coming into work the night that she was going to receive her heart transplant. Sending her off to transplant that night was and still is one of my highlights of being a nurse. It was a privilege and an honor to get to bond with her over the 100 days she was on our unit."

And when she moved on, first to a recovery floor and later to the Gift of Life Transplant House, Katie continued making earrings. That's something Borchert thinks may have helped her heal.

"I truly think having a passion that started before transplant helped Katie in the recovery process," Borchert says. "Transplant is a massive surgery, and she did exceptionally well, and I think having a hobby to look forward to was an important part of that."

It's a hobby that has become something more. Katie has launched her own business, Katie White Designs, to sell her colorful creations.

"I've already sold over 200 pieces," Katie says. "And it's all thanks to Robin."