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Wednesday, October 4, 2000

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
David Kaaihue works on his painting, with help
from art instructor Gordon Sasaki, at the Rehabilitation
Hospital of the Pacific. A mouth stick allows him to hold
the brush, while he maneuvers the wheelchair with
his left hand.

Tackling the
fine art of healing

Victims of disabling accidents
and strokes battle back in pictures

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Keith Sasaki has painted his way to healing and success.

A stroke seven years ago left him partially paralyzed on his left side and visually impaired. "I was in bad shape," said Sasaki, 55, speaking slowly through the right side of his mouth.

While at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu, he participated in its art program. "Physically, the painting has helped me," said Sasaki, who gradually improved his dexterity skills.

In 1996, Sasaki, now a hospital outpatient, was accepted in the Artists of Hawaii exhibition, a statewide competition of professional artists held at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

"There are only two things I can do: think and learn," he said. "With the art program, I've been able to fulfill those things. If you want to read my mind, read my canvas."

The Rehab Hospital provides physical, occupational and speech therapy. The added benefit of art therapy is that "it's very soothing to the soul," said Rehab chief executive officer Bill O'Conner, who has one of Sasaki's oil paintings on his office wall.

Art instructor Gordon Sasaki, who teaches at the hospital twice a week, injured his spinal cord in a car accident 18 years ago, so "I can empathize with them at a certain level," he said.

Most patients who participate in the art program suffer from strokes, spinal cord and brain injuries. For those who lose the ability to communicate, it can be very frustrating, instructor Sasaki said. "Art allows them a vehicle to communicate once again."

Using a mouth stick to hold a paintbrush, David Kaaihue of Kahuku dabs light blue paint onto his canvas. With his left hand, he maneuvers his wheelchair back and forth from his painting of the Kahuku Sugar Mill.

Ten years ago, he fell 25 feet from a ladder while installing a rain gutter. The fall broke his spinal cord. Now 50, he has been in the art program since its inception. "It definitely allows me a creative outlet," he said.

Friday sale will
benefit the program

The "Art from the Heart" exhibition and fund-raiser will run from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, 226 N. Kuakini St.

Art created by current and former patients will be for sale in the hospital lobby. Sale proceeds will buy supplies for the hospital's art program. The program also is supported by donations from the Louis Vuitton Hawaii Golf Cup charity tournament.

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