Origami at Oakland’s Hospital for Children
4 years, 4 months ago Posted in: Blog 0

CHO Murder

On Thursdays when I am not traveling, I teach origami to the patients at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland (CHO website).  The origami is part of an art therapy program, administered by the Child Life Department.  In mid May 2013 I parked my car where I always do when coming to the hospital, on 54th Street a few hundred feet from Shattuck Avenue, and just far enough away from where pigeons roost.  Just outside my car door on the sidewalk was a lovely chalk portrait of a young woman surrounded by flower vases.  “Happy Mother’s Day” was written beside the portrait.  “That’s nice”, I thought as I walked the 3 blocks to the hospital to begin my volunteer shift.  I learned the awful truth behind the portrait at the volunteer office where I sign in for my day’s shift at CHO.  The woman of the portrait was 21 year-old Donitra Henderson.  She had been shot in her car on that spot on April 24th while her 4 year-old son watched from the back seat.  Two days later, Ceejay Reed (age 19) was killed and two others were wounded a block away on 53rd Street.   Many of these gunshot victims are treated at CHO.  The hospital offers them and their families a caring world; a place so different than the mean streets that are just outside the hospital doors.

So it was somewhat ironic that my last patient I was assigned to visit that day was a 19 year-old young man who had been shot twice in the head.  He could not go to the bathroom or get out of bed without help.  He shared a hospital room with a teen-aged boy whose mother was with him.  The gunshot victim’s girlfriend had not visited.  A psychiatrist was with him when I entered, but there were no family members.  She told him that I taught origami to patients in the hospital.  He didn’t want to see me, so I left.  When I was half way down the hall, the psychiatrist called me back saying that although he was not communicating, origami would be good for him.  He was understandably furious and depressed.  I told him that I wanted to show him what he could do.  I watched him fold the square piece of paper in half that I gave him.  It took him a minute, however it was done to perfection.  At that moment I knew I could challenge him with a more difficult model, even though he had never folded origami previously.  Fifty minutes later he had flapping bird model, the more complex one that involves folding the bird base first.  A smile erupted on his face while I was choking back tears.  He showed it to his roommate, then to his nurse.  Next week I was told he had opened up.  He was conversing with the hospital staff, including the psychiatrist and physical therapists.  I am not saying a little paper bird did all that.  This is a team effort that I am only a tiny part of.  With another set of circumstances this young man would more easily become an engineer, given his talents.  I worry about the world he would reenter when he left the hospital.  Hopefully he would find a society that cared for him and visa versa, like the one inside the hospital.  And just maybe he would share some folding with someone.  Together they could make this world a better place, one fold at a time.

Mimi Rauchendorf made a video of the origami at CHO.  She also teaches the patients how to make their own videos.  Enjoy:  Garvin Thomas put my program at CHO on Channel 7 News in a program he calls Bay Area Proud.

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