Her smile widened as Emma Stumpf sorted through small plastic bags filled with art supplies that are going to hospitalized children. The bags are filled with play dough, stickers, markers and paper, so patients at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health can make cards for their families or draw pictures that show how they’re feeling. Emma spent lots of time over the past five years at the Indianapolis hospital, receiving treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. The hospital already has an art room where children can paint and draw, but Emma couldn’t always participate because chemotherapy treatments to shrink the tumor left her too sick.
That gave the 12-year-old sixth-grader at Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School an idea and a goal to provide art supplies to 300 Riley patients who might not feel well enough to make it to the hospital’s art room.
Emma and Lisa Durst, her art teacher at Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School, have collected enough art supplies for the first 300 art kits. But the pair want to keep the program going, so that children at Riley are never without art supplies.
“She found so much pleasure in (art) and relief. I think she thinks it will help other people,” Emma’s mother Lori Stumpf said.
Emma was diagnosed with the brain tumor in 2009, and at the time doctors told her parents their daughter had a 45 percent chance of living five years, Lori Stumpf said.
Today, Emma has been out of treatment for two years. Her body has received all of the chemotherapy and radiation that it can tolerate. She undergoes brain scans every six months to check the size of the tumor, and the last scan showed that bits of the tumor were dying.
Right now, there’s nothing more anyone can do other than to hope for the best, Lori Stumpf said.
To fight the cancer, Emma went through 70 chemotherapy sessions for more than a year to stop the tumor from growing. The tumor continued to grow after Emma finished chemo, and she then underwent six radiation treatments.
Through her battle, Emma lost the vision in her right eye and the peripheral vision in her left eye, and she now has severe short-term memory loss, which makes it difficult for her to remember what she’s taught at school each day, Lori Stumpf said.
But Emma has remained optimistic since her diagnosis. When doctors told her she might go blind because of the radiation treatments, she said she would get a seeing-eye dog, her mother said.
“She’s just very thankful, and so very blessed with everything that she has,” Lori Stumpf said.
Emma started drawing, painting and putting together other art projects after she was diagnosed.
She quickly decided that she wanted to be an artist and came up with art projects that she could keep for herself or give to others. While at Riley, Emma made necklaces and bracelets for nurses and other patients. Other times she drew pictures, including one she still keeps in her sketch book of a child with an IV running into an arm.
Drawing and painting were helpful for Emma when she didn’t have words for what she was feeling, her mother said.
“It just helped her to get everything out without have to talk about it,” Lori Stumpf said.
Now, Emma wants more of Riley’s patients to have art supplies so they can express pain, fear or other emotions that they don’t always have words for.
“I think it sort of helps you get through it,” Emma said.
Durst also found that to be true. She started working with Emma last year and has taught at Greenwood and Clark-Pleasant schools since 2001. In 2012, she created a program in which intermediate school students use painting to express what they’re feeling.
Durst used art therapy as part of her recuperation following a car accident she was in after college where another driver was killed. Emma’s original idea was to create an art cart for the patients at Riley. Hospital officials told Durst they worried a cart could transmit germs among the patients, so Durst suggested she and Emma make 300 individual art kits for the hospital.
The supplies for each art kit cost $5 to $6, and earlier this year Durst started collecting donations of cash and art supplies.
Durst’s art students at the intermediate school helped by creating several hundred clay pendants that were sold at the school’s book fair. Making the pendants prepared the students for a unit on clay that they were about to begin, but Durst also used the project to share Emma’s story and explain why it’s important for them to help their classmates.
Now that they have all the art supplies they need, Durst has to coordinate with the hospital about when and how to hand them out. Once that’s done, she and Emma will start generating the roughly $1,800 needed for another 300 art kits, Durst said.
Durst doesn’t ever want to let the art kit supplies run out. She said providing the kits will give Riley’s patients a way to express what they’re feeling — and will honor Emma.
“(The kits allow) them a peace of mind to deal with whatever they’re dealing with through art,” Durst said. “(Emma) is an incredible kid, and I want this to continue. I want her legacy to continue.”