On two of the busiest hospital floors in Southeast Texas where life and death play tug-of-war while families cling to hope and doctors and nurses work tirelessly to save those lives, six high school students from Memorial and Port Neches-Groves did their part to paint a picture of optimism and thanks at the trauma center at Christus Hospital – St. Elizabeth.
The talented students were selected to paint murals on the walls of the trauma center as part of a contest presented by the local Southwest Transplant Alliance, which handles organ and tissue procurement for the hospital and encourages giving the “Gift of Life” with every organ donation.
“50 percent of local donors come from this hospital,” said Kathy Rodgers, regional director of Trauma at the hospital.
The two teams of students, four from PNG and the pair from Memorial, spent this past Saturday painting the pictures they submitted back in November that were selected out of 40 submissions. An organ donor family and two recipient families judged and selected the two paintings they felt best represented the Gift of Life.
For the third consecutive Saturday, Marisol Lua-Figueroa and Jessica Pulido, both 17 and juniors at Memorial High School in Port Arthur, spent their morning on the second floor, where the Trauma ICU is located, making their first foray into mural painting as they brought their winning submission to life on a wall outside the waiting room.
The picture, a collaboration between the inseparable Lua-Figueroa and Pulido, was a revision to a painting that Lua-Figueroa had done previously for another class. “I had done wings with a world inside it, but the (wings) were open, not closed, and then we came to the idea that the wings would be closed so it could unwrap up the gift of life,” Lua-Figueroa said. “And then instead of the world being circle, we shaped it like a heart to define the organs.”
Fortunately for the self-described “BFFs”, or best-friends-forever, their creativity blossomed together and they each made suggestions that ultimately comprised one of the winning submissions.
“I told her we should make it into a heart, and she told me about the wings, and I was like, that’s cool,” said Pulido, “we don’t really argue.”
Mr. Richard Nash, a long-time educator who recently filled in as the girls’ art teacher, spoke glowingly about his students’ ability.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Nash said, “they’re extremely gifted, not just their artistic ability, but in all subjects. It lets us know among the fabric of Memorial High School, there are some extremely brilliant students who are rising to the top and have all the potential of really making some major contributions to humanity.”
Four floors above where the Neuro ICU is housed to treat head, brain and spine injuries, four PNG seniors occupied a corner of the floor next to a nurses’ station where they painted a figure with its arms outstretched and little halos sprinkled around the figure as it symbolized their homage to the gift of life.
As with the Memorial duo, the four PNG students, Tyler Spikes, Aaron Easly, Lisa Gutierrez and Courtney Dorsey, all 18; “all threw in different ideas and put things together” according to Dorsey that ultimately ended up in their painting being chosen.
“We were happy with being selected,” said Spikes, a member of the PNG football team whose comments sounded very footballish and elicited laughs from his group members. “Everybody came together,” he said, “there’s a lot of good artists in this area, but I figured we had a chance, and in the long-run, we came out with a win.”
The quartet were also making their first splash into mural painting, yet for a group that all described painting as a hobby; the transition from poster board to the wall appeared seamless despite a couple challenges.
"Painting on the wall, the blending is a lot harder than with a pencil,” Dorsey said.
Gutierrez, a member of the softball team, credited each member with fulfilling their respective role in the painting. “Whoever did something on the poster was going to do it on the wall just because it looked better on the poster,” she said. “We all had jobs, Courtney had the wings, I had the body and the guys stenciled it in, doing the handy, manly stuff.”
Lori Lofton, an art teacher at PNG, praised her seniors for their dedication to the project and the impact their participation could have not just to the donor families and recipients, but to the students as well.
“We talk about good deeds in class in various ways,” she said, “and when we were invited to participate, it was a wonderful opportunity and gives you goose bumps. It helps you put things into perspective and we talked about becoming organ donors. It helps remind you what you can do for others and that’s part of being a good person.”
Rodgers said the feedback to the project has been wonderful.
“The response from the families and the staff has been very complimentary,” she said. “That same Saturday the students had a chance to meet some of the donor families at a reception at the Elegante, and the students showed them their original paintings and the families all loved it.”