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Middle School teacher thankful for a teaching hospital and art therapy

IU Health University Hospital

Middle School teacher thankful for a teaching hospital and art therapy

She’s dedicated her life to the children in her care. Now, this teacher is grateful to have the holistic care of IU Health practitioners.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

For the past two years, Christi McDowell has been in and out of the hospital. At first, it was a hospital closer to her Amboy, Ind. Then she was referred to IU Health.

McDowell has spent her life working to control Type 1 diabetes. As the years went by, the disease began to hinder her daily life - including a job she loved. For 18 years she taught language arts, science, math, social studies and visual arts to middle school students. She primarily worked at Brookside Middle School in Sarasota, Fla.

The daughter of Bill and Becky McDowell, Christi and her family traveled wherever her father was stationed with the US Marine Corps. She also has a brother. “I was in nine schools in 12 years,” she said. She graduated from Oak Hill High School located in Grant County. For 25 years, the family spent summers visiting family in Florida and eventually, that’s where Christi settled.

“I’m a sunshine person, a Floridian at heart,” said McDowell, 45. But when her high school began planning a 20th reunion, she reconnected with an old friend, Kevin Bowland.

“I was the manager of the football team and he was a player on the team,” said McDowell. They first reconnected when Bowland was seeking advice about his child’s education. “I’m passionate about helping people navigate the public school system and I was happy to answer questions and offer support,” said McDowell, who received her undergraduate degree in education and art from Indiana Wesleyan University. She also has two master’s degrees in curriculum instruction and administrative leadership.

When she and Bowland married they settled in Amboy, Ind. a small community of about 350 people in southeastern Miami County.

Three years ago, McDowell sadly gave up a career she loved. “I’m legally blind in my right eye and see dark from my left eye,” she said. “From the first part of 2019, I was in and out of hospitals trying to figure out what was wrong. I think I was only out of the hospital 11 days the first year.” When doctors determined her kidneys were failing, she was referred to IU Health. On Aug, 2, 2022, McDowell underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant and has been in the care of Dr. Jonathan Fridell.

“The team at IU Health has been most wonderful, not only is Dr. Fridell an expert in his field but I’d consider him an expert in caring for his patients,” said McDowell. He’s very protective. The other thing I see is he is a wonderful instructor to the students - asking them questions and letting them give their input. I enjoy seeing that and being part of it.”

Since her transplant McDowell said she continues to witness those teaching moments during return hospital stays.

During one recent visit, two art therapists were mentoring a group of high school students. The group stopped by to meet McDowell in her hospital room. Art therapy is part of a holistic approach to patient care. At IU Health art, yoga, massage, and music therapy are offered through CompleteLife, a program that attends to the body, mind and spirit of patient care.

“Since I do have an art degree as part of my undergraduate studies, I taught visual art to middle school students,” said McDowell. “Art is an outlet for me and I haven’t done any art since I went blind.”

When McDowell first met certified art therapist, Linda Adeniyi, she was being discharged from the hospital. “I told her I’d love to do art if I ever came back. Little did I know I would be back so soon,” said McDowell.

When McDowell returned, Adeniyi worked with her on a special project and art therapist, Valeria Guzman brought the students to see the results.

“Knowing that I was blind Linda made canvases where she took black glue and she scribbled it on white canvas and let them dry. When I came back to the hospital these were ready for me. It was so cool because I could see something black because it was so bold against the white, and I could feel the raised glue,” said McDowell.

“It can be lonely when you’re in the hospital. I love my nurses and spending time with them. They care so deeply about me, but they also have jobs to do. My mom comes for hours at a time but doing art therapy gave me an escape from the environment - the noise - and let me focus on something deeply. And of course, I loved having the students come to visit, because that’s such an important part of my life.”

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