Carol Herron assists Charles Tomayo II with a "fish" art projectCarol Herron is one of many “invisible” heroes who collaborate with WITS.  Writers Amy Storrow, Darby Sanders, Melanie Melanowski, and I have had the pleasure of working with her over the last decade, and we can all attest to her professionalism, dedication to the arts, and calm demeanor, even when faced with  challenges such as Hurricane Ike and swine flu that increase the pressures of her job.

Carol, who oversees 70 volunteers who make 400 patient contacts a month, is the genius behind the Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.  Her path to Houston began in Columbia, Missouri, where she majored in psychology and dance at Stephens College and volunteered with Very Special Arts, a program that brings arts to children and adults with special needs.  She thought about being a dance therapist, but there were so few programs in the 80s that she decided to attend Texas Women’s University to earn a Masters in Recreational Therapy. In Denton she gained more experience working with children with special needs and developing arts curricula. Her first jobs out of graduate school were in psychiatric hospitals in New Mexico, where the work of designing arts programs and doing hospital administration often divided her attention.

According to Carol, the position at Texas Children’s Cancer Center is where everything fell into place.  Here she enjoys the perfect balance: access to patients and contact with the arts plus a way to use her administrative skills. Carol remembers, “I approached Texas Children’s Cancer Center and said, ‘I can do this. I know both worlds.’  I started at half time and within a few months I was full time.  I was told to grow the program and make it the best, so that’s what I’m doing. One of my first patients is now a psychiatrist at the hospital!”

Carol understands how her program makes a difference on a daily basis, and this is what motivates her through the tough times.  She explains, “When you walk into a child’s room and ask him to turn off the TV and do pantomine or write a silly poem, it’s risky, but the reward is hearing him—and his parents—laugh, the way they would laugh if they weren’t in a hospital.  The reward is watching that child  reach for a sketch book or journal, instead of the TV remote, when we leave. That’s what makes it all worth it.”

WITS shares Carol’s commitment to the arts.  As she likes to say, “The art, whatever it is, is a means to an end.  It’s different for every child because all children are different.  Our program allows children to be kids and to make choices that are theirs. That’s empowering for everyone.”

* Thank you to The Periwinkle Foundation, which pays for the WITS program at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

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