Teenager Makes Art from Brain Scans

Tessa Carlisle, a 16-year-old student in Los Angeles, points to art work on her computer that shows her long journey toward healing, following two brain surgeries to correct an aneurysm, an enlarged blood vessel that could have killed her.  Doctors first operated in April, 2018, and performed a follow-up surgery in January.She recalls the sudden onset of the symptoms late one night.  “I was about to scream and I felt a very sharp pain in my head, and I remember thinking to myself, this doesn’t feel right.”She remembers collapsing on the floor and waking up in the hospital.  Two major surgeries and months of recovery would follow.“I decided that I wanted to tell my story and tell it the way that I wanted it to be told,” she said.  A classroom art project at the Episcopal School of Los Angeles, where she is a student, gave her the chance.The art works, and her experience of sharing, helped her through the healing process.  She has volunteered through her school’s community service program with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, one of two hospitals where she was a patient.She has had the support of her family.“It’s not a hard thing to talk about because the relief of having Tessa back with us is so great,” said her dad, Matthew, “and to watch her go through this whole procedure and emerge on the other side was very tough but incredibly rewarding.”She has had the support of friends at school.  Tessa shared her experience in a chapel assembly this April.  “When she told her story, they listened, they knew why it was hard for her to be back,” said Megan Holloway, the school’s chaplain.Aneurysms are rare in teenagers, and dangerous unless they’re treated right away.“The family itself takes on a huge burden in trying to care for the child and care for themselves psychologically,” said Jonathan Russin, Tessa’s surgeon at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital.  “It’s really a tough thing and the fact that Tessa and her family came through this so strong, it’s a testament to them,” said Russin.The surgeon notes that the Carlisles have used the experience to reach out — Tessa through her art work; her mom, Clarissa, helping raise funds for a medical center by running a marathon.“They really have funneled all of that, those emotions and things that really could have set them back, I think, and instead have made a positive impact on other people’s lives,” Russin said.Tessa says she hopes to find a career in the field of art therapy, to help others find the healing power of art, as she has.