Brianna Medina was born healthy. A vibrant and active child, she loved to play sports, paint and sing along to “Frozen.” Nothing in her medical history indicated congestive heart failure, until an X-ray revealed her enlarged heart.
At age 7 Brianna was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a rare heart disease, and admitted to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. She was fighting for her life and a new heart was the only remedy.
Brianna spent seven months waiting for a life-saving transplant. Her hospital stay was intensified by surgeries, physical therapy and, for 10 terrifying days, a medically induced coma.
The young pediatric patient’s one unfailing escape from her condition was the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program. AIM strives to transform the hospital environment through various forms of art and music.
“In hospitalization, we unfortunately have to remove people from all the things that are familiar in their life,” said Tina Mullen, UF Health Shands AIM director. “But we have this beautiful way through the AIM program to bring something to patients that is very much about them and not their illness.”
Art became Brianna’s refuge, a way to cope with her emotions and feelings. It was an escape from the long days of waiting, the pain and the medical tubes that snaked around her small body.
“AIM made such a difference in Brianna accepting what we had been handed and the journey we had to go on,” said Maria Medina, Brianna’s mother. “It allowed her to remember everything she loved about being a child.”
Brianna met with AIM team members frequently. During hourlong sessions in her hospital room she produced all types of beautiful art — from whimsical watercolors, to drawings of colorful peacocks, to decorative strings adorned with tiny hearts. Her body grew weaker, but her creative spirit flourished.
“At that particular hour of the day Brianna wasn’t a patient, she was a painter, a poet, a songwriter, an explorer and a masterpiece-maker,” said Amy Bucciarelli, a UF Health Shands AIM art therapist who worked with Brianna nearly every day.
The hardest times were when Brianna was too weak to paint, draw or sing.
In May 2014, just a few months after her eighth birthday, Brianna passed away while waiting for a heart transplant. Her hospital room was adorned with vibrant crafts and creations.
In honor of her strength, endless courage and artistic affinity, the Medina family created Brianna’s HOPE Fund. HOPE stands for Healing Opportunities through Purposeful Expressions. Through AIM, the fund will give children the chance to create lasting works of art.
Stories written by UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital pediatric patients, with the help of art therapists, will become books that illustrate the childrens’ journeys through the hospital experience. Songs they compose will be recorded and turned into CDs.
“If we can give another child even a minute of feeling like they’re not sick, it’s worth more than anything,” Maria Medina said. “We want to keep their hope alive.”
Because of Brianna and her family, hospitalized children will see their words come to life.
“There is absolute beauty in the way Brianna’s loved ones turned a tragedy into something positive that will impact other families,” Mullen said. “It really speaks to the utter strength the family has.”
Slowly, the Medina family is starting to mend, to smile and to once again find beauty in life. The colorful pieces of art Brianna left behind give them strength and the determination to help other sick children.
“We hold on to her memory through her art pieces,” said Maria Medina. “They’re gifts — priceless and amazing.”
To contribute to Brianna’s HOPE Fund, visit briannashopefund.com.