Life Connected: Helicopter Crash Survivor Shares Therapeutic Power of Art

One moment Laura Sharpe was waving to her husband below on their boat, looking forward to a holiday weekend, as the helicopter taking her to Catalina Island neared its landing spot.

The next thing she knew, a month and a half had passed and she was in a hospital regaining consciousness with injuries that would require 30 surgeries over two years.

"When trauma happens, you feel your life is over," Sharpe recalled, now four years after the accident that nearly took her life.

During Sharpe's long and challenging recovery, friends engaged her in artistic pursuits: taking photos and making sculptures that reflected her feelings. At times she felt like the disabled rag dolls she made, but she also found that her spirit benefitted tremendously from creating and collaborating with the artistically talented in her circle.

Suddenly, a light bulb lit up.

"There was a moment when my friend and I looked at each other and said, 'Oh, wouldn't that be amazing if we could do this for other people,'" Sharpe said.

Thus the seed was planted for Artists for Trauma, a program to connect recovering trauma victims with artists volunteering their time and expertise across a spectrum of disciplines, from painting to music.

Sharpe was still formulating how it would work when she met Shelley Jones at the office where both go for acupuncture treatments.

Three years ago, while a freshman at the University of Oregon, Jones suffered two aneurysms that ruptured, causing neurological damage and taking her eyesight. Jones had to relearn how to walk, how to speak.


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As her recovery progressed, she and mother Angie Jones had begun pondering different activities to pursue. Considering the spectrum of arts offered by Artists for Trauma, pottery making sounded intriguing.

Enter Ki Cho, a potter whose Echo Ceramics teaching studio in Westlake is not far from the Jones family home. It did not take Sharpe long to recruit him.

"It's a lot about sharing in the studio," Cho said.

Soon Shelley was coiling clay and creating bowls and vases, not always turning out as she had hoped, but continually improving.

"I'm not going to lie. Sometimes I get really angry. It's hard for me," Jones said, but then quickly added: "Now that I can do things, it makes me really happy."

Angie Jones welcomes the sense of accomplishment her daughter is able to enjoy. "It helps your soul and mind to heal," Shelley's mother said.

The neurological damage weakened Shelley's ability to use her right hand. Cho suggested she try the coiling technique – rolling the clay between the palms to form strands for building up the pottery.

"When she started out, she hesitated to use her right hand," Cho recalled, pointing out that now she has progressed to the point she uses both.

Now Shelley Jones talks about the day she will return to college. And Laura Sharpe has found her calling.

"We do the pairing with the artist," Sharpe said. "And then the magic happens."

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