KU News Release

May 12, 2011
Contact: Lauren Beatty, University Relations, 785-864-8856

Graduation stories: Occupational therapy students lead Tiles of Hope program

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LAWRENCE — For outpatients at the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s blood and marrow transplant unit, getting treatment involves a lot of downtime.

But two students graduating this month from KU’s School of Allied Health have spent the past two years trying to change that.

Kendall Carithers and Sarah Salzman are the student leaders behind Tiles of Hope, a program that brings volunteers and patients together to create art. Patients and their families paint ceramic tiles, which are then displayed in the transplant unit, giving hope and inspiration to those coping with serious illness.

Kendall Carithers and Sarah Salzman (photo by Donna Peck/KU Medical Center)

“There’s so much waiting around,” said Salzman. “It can be boring and frustrating for patients. Tile-making is a way for them to occupy their time. It’s meaningful, it’s easy to implement during scheduled treatments and it’s safe.”

Tiles of Hope was born when a man receiving treatment at the KU Cancer Center saw an inspirational tile mural at another hospital. After the man passed away, his daughter suggested KU adopt a similar program in his memory.

The woman worked with Lisa Mische Lawson, assisant professor of occupational therapy education, on the initial concepts. Mische Lawson then turned to her occupational therapy students for additional help and ideas. She put out a call for volunteers and through a competitive process, Carithers and Salzman were chosen to help lead the creation of the program.

“Both of them are very compassionate and engaging with patients and staff, and they
take a lot of initiative,” said Mische Lawson.

The pair worked throughout the summer of 2009 to test ideas and equipment and to raise funds for the program. They collaborated with nurses, social workers and support groups. They even researched materials to make sure they were safe for patients with immune precautions.

In October 2009, the program officially got off the ground. Carithers and Salzman initially were the only volunteers, going to the cancer center once a week to help patients paint tiles.

But since then, the program has grown immensely. More occupational therapy students are volunteering and completing their service-learning requirements with Tiles of Hope. Additionally, two full-time fieldwork positions were added to the program, allowing occupational therapy students to complete their fieldwork requirements at the cancer center — an option that wasn’t available before Tiles of Hope came into being.

“The two of them have brought occupational therapy to the cancer center,” said Mische Lawson. “We would not have had those opportunities for fieldwork or service learning.”

Today, there are about 300 completed tiles displayed in the waiting room of the bone and marrow transplant unit.

“When people walk in, they want to see their tiles and show them off to caregivers, friends, family members and the nurses,” said Carithers. “They’re so happy.”

Carithers and Salzman say they are thrilled and touched by the program’s success.

“It’s not just about the artwork,” Salzman said. “Each person is expressing themselves, and they feel a camaraderie with other patients going through what they are going through. It’s amazing.”

Carithers is the daughter of Michael and Jan Carithers of Wichita and Cathrin Carithers of Tulsa, Okla. She is a graduate of Cascia Hall Preparatory School, Tulsa.

Salzman is the daughter of Gary and Michelle Salzman of Overland Park. She is a graduate of Shawnee Mission South High School.

Both are earning master’s of occupational therapy degrees this spring.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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