It was a beautiful spring day outside, and Dereon North could only enjoy the view from her bed in Akron Children’s Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit. A kidney infection kept 6-year-old Dereon tethered to breathing machines on her fourth straight day of hospitalization.
“I want to go outside,” she told her mother, Diedra Rosario, in rapid fire fashion. “I want to paint.”
Part of that wish came true, thanks to the efforts of art therapist Molly Kohut, who looks forward to spending time at her bedside, patiently helping Dereon create her own vision of the great outdoors from the confines of her hospital room.
Dereon began her battle with transverse myelitis when she was 2 years old.
“She was completely healthy the first 2 years of her life,” said Rosario. “She went to take a nap one afternoon and she was perfectly fine, but when she woke up a couple of hours later, she couldn’t move.”
Dereon doesn’t let her paralysis keep her from making art and having fun. She uses her mouth to manipulate the paint brush.
In fact, she has developed incredible dexterity with her mouth and tongue. She can use her mouth in a million ways. She has figured out how to use it to put puzzle pieces into place, paint her nails, and manipulate her iPad and electronics.
Like any other student in her Campbell, Ohio, kindergarten class at Campbell Elementary School, Dereon loves to express herself in art. She was delighted when Kohut walked into her room for a visit.
“She’s been asking about the art therapist all morning,” said Rosario. “She likes the attention and she likes to keep busy. It is a perfect fit for her.”
It didn’t take Dereon long to decide to paint a rainbow. She had marveled at an amazing one the family witnessed after a rain storm a few days before her hospitalization. Kohut held the canvas while Doreon sketched in the grass and sky. It seemed as though Dereon’s imagination had transported her to that happy place she chose to draw.
“Art gives children a chance to have some control,” said Kohut. “Kids like Dereon are so dependent on their families and their medical professionals. When they get a chance to make decisions like picking out paint colors and drawing whatever they want to draw, it gives them respite from the tedious parts of being hospitalized. It is a form of escape.”
Akron Children’s Emily Cooper Welty Expressive Therapy Center will showcase Dereon’s art in its open house exhibit June 6. She can’t wait to show her work to her 3 siblings Destnia Smith, 10; Diandra North, 9, and Darmetrus North, 5.
“Dereon makes us all value life more,” said Rosario. “She amazes us with her happiness and joy despite the hurdles she has to overcome. Her situation doesn’t bother her like you would think it would. She’s always in high spirits and she’s really looking forward to sharing her art with others.”