A local Connecticut artist is brightening the holiday season using his coloring books as art therapy for his fellow UConn Health patients living with sickle cell and other diseases.
As an infant, Haitian-born Hertz Nazaire, age 44, of Bridgeport, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, an inherited disorder involving abnormally hook-shaped red blood cells flowing throughout the body. He recalls often having to spend several months a year in the hospital due to the severe pain caused by the disease. His pain episodes and the tormenting memory of them also led to depression.
“Being an artist has always helped me cope with my pain and depression,” says Nazaire. “So I created a coloring book as a tool to help others, especially those with sickle cell, to take their minds off the pain.”
Nazaire believes that, as a form of art, his Finding Your Colors adult coloring books can help others like him obtain relief from anxiety, stress, and depression. He says taking a quiet moment to add color to the pages of the books can help sufferers endure the pain, and notes that the particular choice of colors can affect mood.
UConn Health’s New England Sickle Cell Institute, the first and only regional center of its kind, is now supplying its sickle cell patients with the coloring books, along with the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Nazaire first met UConn Health’s Sickle Cell Institute’s director and his future physician, Dr. Biree Andemariam, by chance in 2008, while they both were advocating to Connecticut legislators for more state resources for sickle cell patients. Since then Nazaire has been a patient of Andemariam’s at UConn Health.
“Meeting Hertz that day at the state capitol was a reinforcement of why we needed to develop a sickle cell disease program at UConn,” says Andemariam. “I saw a young man with so much talent, intellect, and passion for painting who was not realizing his full potential in life due to his disease. I knew we could make a difference in his life, and I see a profound and beautiful change in him. His creativity has come alive again, and there is no better evidence of this than to see one of his amazing coloring books.”
Nazaire says “There is not a sickle cell program like UConn Health’s in the world. I am very fortunate to be cared for by such an amazing program.”
He recalls how in the past, he and many other sickle cell patients would often turn to emergency departments for care when they had a pain crisis. He says UConn Health has greatly improved care in the region for the sickle cell community.
There is now an entire floor at UConn John Dempsey Hospital dedicated to sickle cell care and comprehensive health needs. “This really saves lives and improves our daily quality of life,” he says.
Adds Nazaire: “I am happy to report that I haven’t had a pain crisis in eight years, and I credit UConn Health’s great Sickle Cell Institute’s care. Dr. Andemariam and the New England Sickle Cell Institute at UConn Health have changed my life.”
Like other sickle cell patients, their families, doctors, and nurses, Nazaire is hoping a cure will be soon within reach.
“In the meantime, while we wait for a cure,” he says, “I hope coloring can be a true solace for anyone to take their mind off their pain and depression.”