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Bree Miller, an art therapist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, worked with 3-year-old Allie Brown in The Costas Center at the hospital in November.
Bree Miller, an art therapist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, worked with 3-year-old Allie Brown in The Costas Center at the hospital in November.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

‘Always fun and loving’

Art therapy at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital provides normalcy, healing

Allie Brown arrived at the Costas Center of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital apprehensive and clinging to her mom.

Then, Briana Miller, known as Bree by her patients, plopped a red bag on the table and encouraged the 3-year-old, who is being treated for neuroblastoma, to check out its contents — kid-friendly art supplies. “Go ahead and dump it out,” Bree urged. They soon were playing with a sticker book and a stamp-and-ink set. “Look, we have blues and greens,” Bree exclaimed.

Earlier, Waylon Vick, age 8, leaped as he saw Bree enter his room. “I like to paint, draw funny pictures with her and just have fun,” said Waylon, who is being treated for brain cancer and was busy playing with oobleck, a mixture of corn starch and water that mimics the qualities of a solid or a liquid. His mom, Ashley Vick, said that when Waylon is feeling bad and tired from treatments, Bree “sometimes is the only person who can get him to crack a smile. They’ll play. She’s like his bright spot.”

Bree is among the creative arts therapists — three music therapists and a dance and movement therapist — on the child life team. “I use art and the creative process to meet the needs of the patients and their families, to address mental health issues as they come up and to try to preserve a sense of normalcy in the kids’ life,” Bree said.

Sometimes the oncology/hematology patients struggle adjusting to the hospital, so providing something that’s familiar to them helps.

It can be a long-term situation. Bree stops in to see a college student who comes in for check-ups. Common stresseors such as being immunocompromised will affect patients such as the college student, Bree explained.

Eight-year-old Waylon Vick played with Bree Miller at an art therapy session at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings
The emotions patients show and the things they create help her assess their needs. “When there’s things going on with kids, art and play are their natural language and so things come up naturally. I let them take me where they need to go,” Bree said.

Some tell her they’re not good at art, but Bree replies that they don’t have to be, and if they just want to scribble or get out some energy, it’s OK. It’s also a time to set children up for success. One of the patients enjoys making key chains and gives them away as gifts.

The mission of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital — “through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God” — comes through in her work. When faith is recognized as a primary form of comfort to her patients, Bree encourages them to integrate this into their art therapy work.

When a mom tells her that her child hasn’t laughed so hard in a long time, McKee knows that the art therapy is working. It’s “providing that day what that kiddo needed — a good dose of laughter — and providing her mom with positive memories,” Bree explained.

“We know that healing is about more than medicine here at Cardinal Glennon,” child life services manager Kim Eighmey said. “Play can be medicine, music can be medicine, art can be medicine. It’s so important that we are able offer that holistic approach for our patients because it really does take a village to support our kids.”

The medical staff is amazing, Eighmey said, and the creative arts therapy team, with a unique treatment plan, “gets just as amazing results. We take a whole-mind-and-body approach. Art therapy is instrumental in giving patients a sense of ownership over their hospital experience and helps process everything that happens to them — at the end of the day, that helps heal them.”

Being a Catholic ministry helps support patients as well, she said.

Allie’s mom, Kelsey Brown, said Bree “takes the stress off whatever we are doing during the day. She’s always fun and loving.”

Art therapy

Art therapy is a mental health profession facilitated by a professional art therapist using art media, the creative process and the resulting art work to explore thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Bree Miller works to reduce anxiety and stress during the hospitalization. She communicates the patients’ individual and developmental needs, coping styles and other assessments to staff and family members. Bree works with patients in oncology/hematology to reduce stressors and normalize the hospital environment.

To help

The Costas Center at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital treats pediatric patients diagnosed with a wide variety of cancers and blood-related conditions, including sickle-cell anemia, clotting disorders, leukemia and lymphoma, bone and soft tissue cancers and brain and spinal cord tumors.

For information, visit bit.ly/3kT9Io1.

The mission of the Child Life Department at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is to advocate for the psychosocial, developmental, emotional and educational needs of all our patients and families.

Donations of new toys, games, stuffed animals and crafts are welcome throughout the year. Financial donations also make it possible for a child’s hospital experience to be a positive one.

To donate items, visit www.glennon.org/donate-to-child-life.

Support these and other areas of need by donating to the Children’s Fund at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. Make a gift at glennon.org or by mail at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation, 3800 Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110. For information, contact the foundation at (314) 577-5605 or [email protected].

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