Young eye patients experience 'a whole new world'

Meagan Smith’s daughter, Reagan, gravitated right to the bright underwater scene. Painted on an entire wall in the Ophthalmology waiting room, this mural made her first appointment a little more fun.

Joseph Brown, an assistant in Ophthalmology, couldn’t be happier to hear this. Patients like Reagan are the exact reason he painted the mural three years ago.

After a few years of hearing that younger patients didn’t have much to keep them occupied, Brown began looking around. He saw all the pictures posted in the hospital’s Inpatient Pediatrics area. He saw bright colors and cheery depictions.

Brown wanted the same for Ophthalmology and thought his own artistic skills might help. So he pitched the idea of a mural on the long wall to match the fish-designed carpeting.

After about 25 hours of work, Brown now relishes the moments in which young patients get lost in the painting. And parents love that this one piece keeps their little ones occupied and eases nerves before an appointment.

Reagan serves as a perfect example of the power something simple, like this painting, can hold.

“She noticed it instantly when we first came here, and she was immediately drawn to it,” said Smith, RN, from One Day Surgery.

“She knows all the characters on it, and she likes to act a little bit like a teacher. When my husband and I go with, she points out all the different sharks, all the different types of fish. She knows all the characters, and she explains it all to us.”

Just how well does she know the mural? Well, Meagan couldn’t help but ask a question Reagan wanted to know.

“Did the painter update it recently?” she asked.

Indeed Brown has. Coworkers in Ophthalmology asked him to because they do a scavenger hunt with it. They itemize the different characters, sea animals and other items drawn on it. Then they hand out a worksheet with all these items listed.

It’s then up to the younger patients to find everything on the list and immerse themselves in Brown’s mural.

After a few years of this scavenger hunt, the kids began getting used to it. They needed more items, and Brown was happy to oblige—much to the delight of Reagan.

“Yeah, I thought there was more to it recently, because she noticed it,” Meagan said. “Reagan pointed out all the new items to us right away.”

At this point, not much gets past Meagan’s daughter when it comes to one of her favorite paintings.

“You have to realize, Reagan has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation of the eyes,” Meagan said. “We’re here almost weekly. You could say we’re frequent fliers, but Reagan still loves looking at that mural.”

This kind of reaction means the most to Brown. But it’s not only Reagan who took notice. Recently a few coworkers received a handwritten note on the back of the scavenger hunt form from a parent.

“It just thanked us for the artwork on the walls, and said that the kids really enjoyed it,” Brown said. “I love the enjoyment that the kids get when they look at. That’s what brings me the most joy. 

"Even when I was in the middle of painting it, I could hear a kid pass by and say something like, ‘Wow, look that’s Ariel (from “The Little Mermaid”)!’”

As a person whose interest in drawing has lasted his whole life, Brown’s efforts don’t end in this waiting room. He has a business, Murals and Rock Painting, as well a few loved ones who keep him active on the artistic end of the spectrum.

“In a few months I’m going to begin painting my 9-year-old son’s room, and now we have a 9-month-old son whose room will need attention,” Brown said.

For his elder son, Joe, he anticipates doing something from the “Lego Batman” movies. But the 9-month-old, Benjamin, isn’t quite into movies yet, so Brown plans on doing some fun finger-painting to liven up his space.

And he’s also watched as Joe developed an interest and shared passion for drawing.

“The other day he saw Winnie the Pooh, and he just got up and drew him right away. Today he told me he did 12 drawings,” Brown said. “He’s really good and has developed such an interest in it. It’s wonderful.

“People tell me all the time that I need to get him in an art class, but the great thing is that I can just teach him myself.”

In the meantime, he’s also proving kids in Ophthalmology can even have a little fun when they wait for their doctor’s appointment.