Fourteen-year-old Julien Ford believes that every child fighting kidney disease is a superhero who deserves their own action figure. Through art therapy at Akron Children’s, he’s created action figures who defeat the autoantibodies that attack the kidneys.
An 8th grader at Ontario Middle School, Julien has benefitted from all aspects of Akron Children’s expressive therapy services, including art, music and narrative medicine.
“Julien started receiving expressive therapy while undergoing dialysis at the hospital, a long process that lasts three to four hours,” said Emily Zeitz, music therapist. “Along with giving patients an outlet for creative expression and a way to cope with chronic illness or hospitalization, expressive therapy helps our patients manage pain and reduce anxiety, while providing social and cognitive stimulation.”
Emily created a playlist for Julien, which includes artists such as Justin Bieber and Post Malone, to help him relax during dialysis. Sometimes he freestyles his own raps, including a very touching song he rapped about his mom and how much she means to him. He also likes to play different types of drums and compose his own songs in the Garage Band app, using a variety of world instruments.
Julien now receives dialysis at home. He says he’s gotten used to it and since he receives dialysis overnight, it’s a little easier to endure. Expressive therapy continues to be a part of the care he receives during checkups with his health care team in Nephrology.
“We provide services to both inpatients and outpatients, but outpatient is limited to those with chronic conditions who have a greater need,” said Liz Germano, music therapist. “We also promote staff wellness with monthly expressive therapy offerings, such as art therapy and sound baths using Tibetan singing bowls that make soothing sounds and vibrations to promote relaxation.”
Art therapist Laura Tetzlaff has helped Julien create his superhero action figures out of clay. He has also worked with narrative medicine coordinator Nicole Robinson to create comic books that tell the stories of his superheroes’ adventures, which he also illustrates. His latest comic book is about the kidney disease-fighting duo of Beans and Weenie, who are shaped like kidney beans and depict how strong the kidneys can be.
Consults for expressive therapy services are made through Epic.
“We will follow up to assess the child and get to know them,” said Emily. “Although we facilitate the experience, the patients are the ones leading it.”
It’s Julien’s dream to make sure every child receiving treatment for kidney disease at Akron Children’s receives one of his action figures, complete with their own comic book and theme song.
“’You will get through it,’ he says to kids undergoing dialysis. “I was sad too, but stay strong.”