Brock unravels mystery of heart disease through art

A recent Brock event morphed art and science together, giving a unique glimpse into the lives of individuals with heart disease.

The stories of men and women with early warning signs of heart disease were told through art and poetry during a one-night exhibition Sept. 12 at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. The Art-Informed Journey through Cardiac Illness Art Symposium was presented by Department of Nursing Assistant Professor Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy.

The event was inspired by evidence that emerged from Brock’s Heart Innovation Research Program, led by O’Keefe-McCarthy, which suggests that patients want to receive information in ways that are meaningful to them.

“The experience of living with heart disease is different for each person,” said O’Keefe-McCarthy. “When we were analyzing the data collected from men and women looking back on the symptoms they suffered before their heart attack, what emerged went far beyond what we were expecting. The comments and themes really spoke to the emotional aspect of living with heart disease.”

Some of the analogies used in the project included phrases such as:

  • “Stitch in time”
  • “Unraveling the mystery”
  • “Common threads”
  • “Mend my own heart”

“These phrases inspired our team members to reach out to women who crochet and request they make hearts as a symbol for the creativity that we need to employ to get important health knowledge into the hands of people who need it,” O’Keefe-McCarthy said.

In speaking with these women, a suggestion was made for the research team to come out to a knitting group meeting.

“At first, I thought I was being invited to a join a group of four or five women, but it was quickly clarified that there are knitting guilds of 3,000 to 5,000 women in Ontario and that we were being invited to go to one of their conferences,” O’Keefe-McCarthy said.

Soon after, came the idea to share this new information in creative and artistic ways.

“Using an arts-informed approach to analyze and disseminate data has the ability to change perceptions of our understanding of the early warning signs of heart disease,” she said.

The symposium showcased the experiences of 23 women and men through verbatim poetry and artistic depictions created by four artists. Three evocative themes covered the denial of early warning signs, pain and self-recrimination.

“It is my hope this event was successful in drawing attention to the early warning signs related to poor heart health and stimulated discussion and learning in a meaningful way,” O’Keefe-McCarthy said.

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