(ABC4 Utah) Treatment for cancer is often physically and emotionally draining, but a creative program at Intermountain LDS Hospital is easing the emotional challenges for bone marrow transplant patients.

The treatment for these cancer patients often requires prolonged isolation for weeks at the hospital, away from everyday life, adding emotional challenges to a long recovery.

This unique program, called “The Joy and Wellness Program,” involves activities like arts and crafts projects, virtual reality, yoga, games, and music – four or five afternoons a week on the Bone Marrow Transplant unit.

“It’s a diversion designed to keep the mind and body active,” said Charlene Clayton, recreational therapist at Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital. “We try to recreate patients’ hobbies and interests in the hospital setting, to help normalize the experience for them while they’re away from home. Joy and wellness is our objective.”

Clayton has also created a space for patients to connect and engage with each other or family members while participating in something hands on. She often finds herself working with 20-30 patients each day.

Four years ago, a former patient who wanted to improve the isolating experience, created and funded the program. Generous philanthropy efforts keep the program running.

This unique approach to recovery and healing is also specifically designed for bone marrow transplant patients.

Fredy Arroyo, who has acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), and travels to Utah from his Las Vegas home, has participated in the program numerous times while going through 28-day hospital stays for continuous inpatient infusion.

Arroyo says he likes the variety of activities – especially tie dye – and the positive connection he makes with others in recreational therapy. 

“When I go to the hospital for treatment, I’m by myself and away from family. Nobody can go with me. It’s nice to go out there and talk to other patients,” said Arroyo. “I always try to make jokes. It makes my day go easier, and helps me feel normal.”

The positive interaction, fun activities, caring effort and hopeful tones from caregivers create a welcoming place for Arroyo and patients like him who need extended care. 

For patient, Karina Rivera, 28, who participated in the program during the holidays, says painting, puzzling, sewing ugly Christmas sweaters, and just laughing with other patients provided an escape from reality. 

Rivera says she loved concentrating on something other than her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Charlene, the nurses, and really everyone tries to make me as comfortable as they can,” said Arroyo. “It keeps my self-esteem up and helps me feel confident in myself. That makes me feel great and lets me know I’m in the right place.”

To learn more about the program or donate, go here

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