The art of healing: Spinal fusion patient Dylan Morang fights through pain for his art

dylan-morang-art-exhibit-1

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. – Pablo Picasso

Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Rockland, Maine, Dylan Morang has been artistically inclined. His mother remembers him often sitting at his little desk, happily consumed by his coloring. When he wasn’t drawing, he was gathering inspiration along the beautiful rocky shores and through the deep woods of Maine.

Dylan is now 24, and his love of art has only grown. He studied art in college, taught himself Photoshop, and is currently exhibiting his artwork at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he underwent two surgeries for severe scoliosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, a hereditary disease that causes weak bones.

Hordes of visitors stop to admire the rich watercolor paintings and vibrant graphic designs inspired by the artist’s home: a great horned owl, a fern frond, a Chesapeake Bay blue crab. About his work, Dylan says, “I’ve just always loved art and experimenting with different color combinations.”

raccoon Owlbert

Ten floors up from the lobby where his artwork hangs, Dylan spent two months as a spinal surgery patient. On March 11, John B. Emans, MD, director of Boston Children’s Spinal Program, operated on Dylan. During the 10-hour spinal fusion surgery to straighten Dylan’s spine, Emans inserted metal rods to hold the spine in place and let it heal together into a single bone.

Despite the intense pain caused by his condition, nothing can keep Dylan from his art, not even the halo traction brace that is fixed to his head and greatly restricts his movement.

During the days and weeks that passed, the Boston Children’s child life team kept Dylan’s mind and spirit active. “We want patients to have fun while they’re here,” says Dylan’s child life specialist, Laurel Anderson, who lights up the room with her warmth and positivity. “But it goes beyond that. We stimulate their emotional, social and intellectual growth through play, art, music and more. And we teach them coping skills that they can use both during their hospital stay and beyond.”

Laurel, one of 40 child life specialists at the hospital, has been at Boston Children’s for eight years and counting. “These kids inspire me every day,” she says. “I am so lucky.”

Picking up on Dylan’s artistic ability, Laurel made sure that Dylan met Boston Children’s artist-in-residence, Silvia Chavez, who became a mentor to Dylan during his stay at the hospital. A big supporter of Dylan’s, Silvia says, “He has a keen eye for detail and color and beautiful line quality, which make his graphic work so strong.”

dylan-morang-lobster-claw

Dylan met weekly with Silvia to learn new art skills such as rubber stamp carving and printmaking. Silvia also worked with Dylan on practical skills he can use to market his art once back in Maine, like designing a logo, business cards and postcards. (His artwork is currently for sale at Society6.)

Dylan approached the major surgery with confidence and poise beyond his years. “I don’t really worry that much. I’ve been through this before. I think my mom’s probably more worried than I am. Dr. Emans is really good at what he does.”

After three days in ICU, Dylan returned to the 10th floor with Laurel and Silvia and all of the members of the Boston Children’s child life team.

Emans says the two surgeries he performed should be Dylan’s last. “In two months, the halo will come off.” Dylan looks forward to spending more time painting in Maine and less time lying in a hospital bed. “Since I’ve been laid up for so long,” he says with a laugh, “I don’t really picture myself at a desk job for the rest of my life. I’d rather make stuff and be creative.”

Learn more about Child Life Services and the Spinal Program at Boston Children’s.