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Healing Through Art, One Step at A Time

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Juan Juarez, Patient and Artist interviewed by Frances Ancheta-Becker, Supervising Creative Arts Therapist at San Mateo Medical Center

Juan Juarez Tank paintingJuan is a patient in the long-term care/skilled nursing unit at San Mateo Medical Center, in San Mateo, California, a local county government hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. Juan was originally from Mexico and spent most of his life there. He was married and has a daughter, but he and his wife eventually separated. Juan had no previous interest in art, although he was studying mechanical drawing with aspirations of becoming an architect. Prior to his illness, Juan’s primary leisure interest/hobby was sports, especially soccer. Juan eventually came to the United States as an adult and worked for several years. 

Juan Juarez Car with front burnersHowever, seven years ago Juan developed multiple sclerosis, resulting in the progression of weakness of his body, in particular his upper body balance and his  upper and lower limbs. As Juan’s illness progressed, he developed chronic pain and some depression, as he could no longer work and function as before. 

Juan had been staying at SMMC as a patient in the long-term care unit, receiving rehabilitation therapy to regain physical function and endurance.

Juan Juarez car back

It was on the long-term care unit where a Spanish speaking staff member introduced him to the creative arts and recreation therapies programs of the unit, specifically the therapeutic art groups.

Juan states that his discovery of art (drawing and painting in particular) helped him to regain his strength back both physically and mentally, one step at a time.

Juan mentioned that he started off with small, simple projects, then gradually increased the size and frequency of his artwork. He says that involving himself in art and the creative process helps with his physical endurance, strength, and balance of both his upper and lower body.

Juan Juarez antique carAccording to Juan, creating through art helps him to “concentrate, feel positive, increase his overall energy, and decreases his negative thoughts, and feel productive.”

During his stay in the hospital, Juan went from feeling hopeless and isolated to feeling “more hope”. Juan feels less isolated and has met new and different people from all walks of life.

He says that his artwork has helped him to discover a “new world of possibilities and has opened new doors” for him.

Juan now feels motivated to get out of bed and to get up and about in his wheelchair every day. He can tolerate his activities of daily living much easier and with less pain, as he has his daily art to look forward to. He feels more active overall and credits art with giving him a renewed sense of purpose, strength, and energy.

A big thanks to Juan for sharing his inspirational story. Wishing Juan many more years of wellness and creativity!


Read the first story in this series