Photography by Abby Murphy
By Allyson Sutton
Katie Hinson’s story is one of survival, compassion and the healing power of creativity. At 5 years old, the Charleston native underwent open heart surgery at MUSC to treat a congenital heart condition.
“When I woke up from surgery, I had no idea what happened to me,” Katie says. “I didn’t understand how to process it or communicate about it.”
What she did understand, though, was art. Her mother, an artist and an art teacher, encouraged Katie’s creativity from a very early age and knew art could be an outlet for her daughter to express what she was feeling. So as soon as Katie was able, her nurses set up an easel in the atrium, rolling her wheelchair down the hall so she could paint and draw every day.
With each dainty brushstroke, Katie recovered. And while she had no way of knowing at the time, this pivotal experience planted the seed for what would become her life’s work.
As a teenager, Katie returned to MUSC, this time volunteering in the labor and delivery unit. She later studied psychology and studio art at the College of Charleston. Neither choice was made to build a resume, and yet, each led her closer to becoming a licensed creative arts therapist.
“I discovered art therapy while researching career paths during my senior year of college,” Katie says. “Creativity played such an important role in my healing as a kid, so art therapy felt like the perfect opportunity to share that with others.”
After receiving her master’s in art therapy from the School of Visual Arts, Katie spent nearly a decade in New York providing art therapy to victims of child abuse and trauma, patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and young men and women incarcerated at Rikers Island.
“Many of these kids and adults had never experienced therapy of any kind,” says Katie. “Art makes those tough conversations more approachable. Talking about materials or colors opens up a bigger discussion about how they’re feeling — it’s not just about the creation of art, it’s using the art as a catalyst for healing.”
In late 2017, Katie decided to return south to be closer to family. A couple of months later, she landed a job as the first Arts in Healing Program Coordinator at MUSC, a new initiative that provides art and music therapy to patients and families across all departments of the hospital.
“It’s such an incredible, full-circle experience to be back where I had surgery as a kid,” says Katie. “MUSC gave me the chance to heal through art when I was younger, and now our team gets to share that same opportunity with patients and their families every day.”
Earlier this year, MUSC Arts in Healing partnered with the Charleston American Heart Association to launch Strokes for Strokes, a monthly art therapy program for stroke survivors and caregivers. Katie leads every workshop.
“Strokes for Strokes existed as a submission-based art show in other communities, but we wanted to develop something more hands-on here in Charleston,” says Jennifer Waites, marketing director for the Charleston American Heart Association. “It’s really special to have these in-person group sessions where survivors and their families are creating art together.”
According to the Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention Center, residents in the Southeast U.S. are 34 percent more likely to suffer a stroke than the general population. The risk across our 11-state region is so much higher that the area is known as the “Stroke Belt.”
“Stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability and the sixth leading cause of death in South Carolina,” says Katie Schumacher, executive director of the Charleston American Heart Association. “Strokes for Strokes helps us raise awareness about this epidemic while also helping survivors and caregivers heal through art.”
Art therapy has been found to help fight depression and anxiety, assist with verbal communication, and alleviate physical pain during stroke recovery.
“Strokes for Strokes gives survivors and their loved ones a chance to relax,” says Katie. “When they’re creating art, they don’t have to think about their medications or be defined as a patient or caregiver. It’s healing and empowering.”
Craig Miller, a stroke survivor, and his wife, Cathedra, participated in the first Strokes for Strokes workshop this past February.
“When Craig had a stroke, we had no idea what to expect,” says Cathedra. “Strokes for Strokes gave us a new parallel to think about that experience. We didn’t know what to expect or what our paintings would look like at the end, but the process was very soothing. It’s so comforting to know that there are people like Katie who care so much and try to give you alternate ways to express what you feel.”
Thanks to her work with Arts in Healing and Strokes for Strokes, Katie was recently named this year’s Open Your Heart honoree by the Charleston American Heart Association.
“Katie is incredible and we’re thrilled to honor her this year,” says Jennifer. “It’s so inspiring to hear her story and see firsthand how dedicated she is to helping survivors and caregivers heal through art.”
Katie will be honored at the Charleston Heart Ball on April 12, a fundraising gala supporting heart disease and stroke research. The event also celebrates heart survivors and will include a special exhibition of artwork created by Strokes for Strokes participants.