FORT WORTH, Texas — Cook Children’s Medical Center is in the business of saving lives. It takes a dedicated and intricately trained team to do that.
But it is also a team that includes a rolling cart filled with paints, brushes, stickers… and plenty of glitter.
“Oh, for sure,” said Sydney Peel when asked if glitter was indeed part of her cache of supplies.
Peel is the resident artist at Cook Children’s. On any given day you can find her pushing that cart from room to room offering pediatric patients a much-needed break from the sometimes less pleasant visit of doctors and nurses.
Toddler Kaydence Mixon is a frequent recipient of Sydney’s visits. Born with Down Syndrome and being treated at Cook Children’s for leukemia and a heart condition at the same time, a visit from Peel can be the best part of her day.
"It brings a light to us. It makes Kaydence happy,” Kaydence’s mom Natasha Mixon said as Peel sat with Kaydence on her hospital room floor spreading finger paint with her hands and bare feet. “She's full of joy all the time anyways. And it just makes us happy when we see Sydney."
And Peel knows firsthand how important those moments can be. Before she was an art student at TCU, she was a patient at Cook Children's. She was born with a rare disease called hereditary angioedema. She said it took years to get an exact diagnosis and proper treatment.
"It can be extremely painful and can also be life threatening,” she said.
Disappearing into the world of art is what helped her pass the time on the most difficult hospital days.
"It was something I turned to and gave me hope and gave me something to do and a distraction,” she said. "I think it's great that I get to do that with kids now."
Her art, and the work of hospital patients, decorates the hallways at Cook Children’s. During this past February, which was Rare Disease Month in the U.S, Peel's art was featured in Times Square in New York City to help bring attention to rare diseases just like hers.
"It feels unreal. It's one of those things I don't even think that was something I had dreamed of because it felt too big,” she said.
Peel's art lessons are also featured on the hospital’s internal TV channel so that she can reach multiple patients at a time.
"I feel like everything in my life, like, led to ending up here,” she said. "It's just a very magical place,” she said. "It's just really special to be a little part of that magic."
And a mom, watching her daughter smile, knows that magic - that medicine - can go a very long way.
"I think it is,” Natasha Mixon said as her daughter Kaydence squealed with delight in the background. By now the toddler was happily covered in finger paint from head to toe.
“It is,” she said with a smile. Yes."
"And we were talking about how the kids come in and out,” Peel said of a conversation with a Cook Children’s colleague. “They may be here a little bit. They may be here a long time. But they leave and their family leaves. But you are a little speck in their life. You may be like one or two specks. Or you may be a lot of specks if they are here for a long time."
"But you can also be a little bit of glitter,” she said with a laugh.
And that's exactly the shining example Sydney, and her rolling cart full of glitter, intend to be.