More MS news articles for July 2001

Program Gets Therapy Down to a Fine Art

Thursday, July 19, 2001

Anyone who has seen Orin Voorheis' painting of his poodle, Rusty, finds it hard to believe the Pleasant Grove artist cannot walk, talk, bathe or feed himself.
Yet he is able to paint from his bed or his wheelchair because of his teacher, mentor and friend Nancy Davis Collier, who insisted that, in spite of his physical disabilities, he could pursue his artistic passion. She taught Voorheis to prop his arm up on a pillow, weave the handle of a brush through the fingers of his right hand and move a watercolor tablet beneath the brush to accommodate each stroke.
Voorheis, 23, is among the hundreds of permanently or temporarily disabled, chronically or terminally ill, severely injured or elderly Utahns who are working with Collier and the nonprofit rehabilitation program she has established in Salt Lake City. Her New Outlook Therapy program is based primarily on the arts: adaptive watercolor painting, creative writing, music and humor.
"Nancy Collier and New Outlook Associates has offered Orin the opportunity to express himself through art," his mother, Florence Voorheis, said. "Painting has given him some control by allowing him to make some choices."
Orin Voorheis was serving a mission in Argentina for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997 when he was shot in the head during a robbery. He was left with brain damage.
Since her son began working with Collier, Florence Voorheis said she noticed a marked improvement in his spirit and physical skills. He worked to hold the paint brush by himself. Now he teases Collier when she wants to take his brush to change colors by holding it even tighter so she can't take it away. He uses sign language to communicate what he would like to paint for the day.
"It [painting] has also offered him the opportunity to give back through his paintings, which have been made into notecards and bookmarks," Florence Voorheis said. Orin Voorheis gives away his work as a "thank you" to the many volunteers who visit his home each day to help with his therapies.
Helping patients is all the thanks Collier said she needs.
She once helped a young mother, dying of a brain tumor, create a scrapbook of paintings and poems for the woman's young daughter. Collier knew the scrapbook would speak of a mother's love for her child.
Collier helped another patient, a musician diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), write and illustrate a children's book for his daughter as his condition quickly deteriorated. That patient, Trent Blood, eventually became a quadriplegic, unable to care for himself. But after much struggle, he learned -- with Collier's help -- to create watercolors by holding the paint brush in his mouth. His charming book is now sold to raise funds for other patients who need financial help paying for the therapy.
"It is gratifying for me to go and meet new patients and see how I can help them and motivate them to do something in the arts, which can be a powerful source of help," Collier said.
Before founding the program, Collier taught art and music to schoolchildren in various grades, some with disabilities. She also was an assistant director of a school for children with learning disabilities, and conducted an art program in a maximum-security prison in New York.
After caring for her terminally ill mother and being involved in a New Jersey hospice program, Collier said she decided to leave teaching and launch her therapy program. She started the program in Connecticut in 1984, and relocated to Utah in 1987 to be near her daughter who was attending Brigham Young University.
"Always, the patients have a fear they will not be able to achieve any success in doing something in the arts," Collier said. "Some of their excuses are, 'My hand is shaking, my vision is blurry, I can't even sit up in bed. The doctor says there is no hope I can ever do anything.'
"They have many obstacles they are trying to overcome," she continued. "But usually, the first time they try something and I frame it, they are thrilled. Their accomplishments help take their minds off their problems and pains. They help them to gain confidence and raise their self-esteem."
Last year alone, Collier and New Outlook volunteers provided therapy to 284 patients, aged 3 to 102, in medical facilities or their homes in five counties. The patients were diagnosed with everything from Alzheimer's disease to Down's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer. Collier works with 10 to 30 volunteers, who are assigned to help with various patients.
About a quarter of the patients receive therapy for six months to five years. Most are referred to Collier by doctors, nurses, social workers or relatives of the individuals.
"Nancy has the ability to engage patients in an artistic activity that effectively brightens their day," Mark Mogul, a former pediatric bone marrow transplant physician at the University of Utah Hospital, wrote in a letter to medical colleagues. "Even our most depressed patients respond to her efforts. She makes our patients smile through what can be an otherwise horrifying experience for them."
Tawnia Dean agrees with the doctor's praise.
The single Sandy mother was looking for an art program for her autistic daughter, Tawny, when she learned about New Outlook through a Salt Lake County recreation flier.
"The thing that was appealing to me was that, as a working mother, I was not able to go downtown or a community center; Nancy comes to my home to do art therapy, which has done wonders for my daughter by giving her an outlet of her own."
Because part of her daughter's disability is behavioral, it is difficult for Dean to enroll Tawny into a regular art class. Tawny needed one-on-one attention, which Collier gives her on a regular basis.
"One of the things that really appealed to me is that Nancy is a true humanitarian. She would never turn people away because they can't afford it," Dean said. "She does this because she loves helping people."
Collier's fees are based on a sliding scale, up to $65 an hour, based on the person's ability to pay. Because some can afford little, Collier solicits grants from foundations and corporations. New Outlook received a $5,000 grant from the Christopher Reeve Foundation three years ago for Collier's work with spinal cord injured patients. New Outlook recently received a $10,000 grant from Intermountain Health Care Foundation to help patients who cannot afford to pay.
But as the number of patients increase, so does the need for additional funding, allowing trained and certified New Outlook therapists to work full time visiting patients. For now, Collier travels an average of 40 to 125 miles a day, five and a half days a week. She works with 35 patients a month on a weekly or semi-weekly basis.
"I want to make sure that the paints I use are magic paints so everyone who paints, sings or writes a poem can be healed. Obviously that isn't the case. I have been asked to sing at a lot of patient's funerals, where their paintings have been hung at the mortuary during the viewing," Collier said. "All I can do is help people have some quality of life while they are recovering from a car accident, a fall or surgery, or chronic illness. If they are terminally ill, then I can help them die with dignity."
Contact Information

Persons interested in volunteering, becoming a trained New Outlook therapist, referring a patient, or making a donation to the nonprofit organization, call (801) 253-2583 or write to Collier at P.O. Box 711094, Salt Lake City, 84171, or e-mail her at