Mackenzie Collins, 12, has been a patient at Lurie Children’s since the age of three, and sees her caregivers every couple of weeks. Over the years, she has become very familiar with all 22 floors of the hospital, which have been assigned animal icons like lions, rabbits, hippos and zebras for easy way-finding. Mackenzie, who is treated for autism and other medical conditions, started drawing cartoons of the different animal icons two years ago and giving them to other patients. To date, she has given out nearly 100 drawings.
Mackenzie’s inspiration? Compassion and cheer. Being a patient herself, she wants to provide other Lurie Children’s patients with an outlet for fun while in the hospital. She does not use any special art supplies, but is resourceful and finds plastic bags, stickers and crayons to make her art.
“Mackenzie’s health has been an ongoing process, but the animal icons have always given her something to look forward to,” says Mari Schmidt, Mackenzie’s mom. “She often visits animal shelters, farms and the zoo. “Her cartoons have different personalities and are dressed in hospital gowns. She has given each animal a designated name; some are even in Japanese. She likes the ways Japanese words are spelled and has an interest in the culture. She’s even taught herself how to write and read in Japanese.”
When designing Lurie Children’s, the former Children’s Memorial, the hospital partnered with Chicago institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Lincoln Park Zoo, on the creative design of public spaces on each floor. Each floor’s animal icon is tied to the institution representing that floor. For example, the Art Institute’s famous lion sculpture inspired the lion icon for the 20th floor.
“Artwork is important in the healthcare setting because it helps create a healing and hopeful environment to support and engage kids and families,” says Lisa Mulvaney, coordinator of the Creative Arts Program at Lurie Children’s.
Mackenzie responded to the creative environment at the hospital with her own artwork. Drawing has been therapeutic because it allows her to manage her health struggles in a positive way and provides a form of relaxation.
“Often there is a stigma that children who have autism are not socially aware or emotionally approachable, but Mackenzie continues to prove that she is caring and thoughtful,” says Mari.
Mackenzie’s joy for art is just the beginning. In the future, she aspires to sell drawings at Lurie Children’s gift shop or even turn them into stuffed animals for others to purchase.