‘I can get my life back’ | Health Beat


More than 500 black sharpie markers. Fifty foot swathes of white cloth. Forty hours a week for over a year.

That’s just part of what Laura Clayton needed to create her two artworks of Noah’s Ark, which were exhibited at the 2014 and 2017 ArtPrize international artist competition in Grand Rapids.

But there was another crucial element of her art that she took for granted.

A healthy right shoulder.

When she fell in 2020 and injured her shoulder, she had to put her art on hold. Now, after an operation to repair a torn rotator cuff, she’s back – with an eye on the ArtPrize 2024.

“Now that the pain is gone, I feel like a free bird,” Clayton said. “I’m just so glad I can move it and use it.”

And that’s exactly what Kendall Hamilton, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Spectrum Health Medical Group Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, loves to hear.

“She’s doing great,” said Dr. Hamilton. “I think she’s one of the success stories. I’m pleased that at a time when someone is going through so much pain, we can step in to step in and ease the pain so she can get back to doing the things she enjoys.”

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Minimally invasive

Clayton’s health journey began in spring 2020 when she fell at her home in Comstock Park.

It had landed on her right shoulder. Having broken about a dozen bones in her lifetime, she was pretty sure she hadn’t broken anything.

“I was like, ‘Well, I didn’t break a bone, so I’m just hurt a little bit,'” Clayton said.

So she lived with it. For a while.

“It just never got better,” she said.

She struggled with pain for nearly two years until finally seeing a doctor in February 2021.

Conservative treatment with injections, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy didn’t work, so the doctor referred her to Dr. Hamilton transferred.

“It just got to the point where she couldn’t function and enjoy her hobbies,” said Dr. Hamilton.

An MRI showed a torn rotator cuff, tearing both the labrum and biceps.

On June 6, 2022, she underwent surgery to repair the damage. The physician performed the outpatient procedure at Spectrum Health South Pavilion Surgical Center using a minimally invasive arthroscopic technique.

That meant faster recovery with less swelling, less blood loss, and less pain, said Dr. Hamilton.

Two days after surgery, she began physical therapy twice a week at the Spectrum Health facility in Rockford at the MVP Athletic Club. She then switched to therapy once a week, and in September her therapist allowed her to do exercises at home.

dr Hamilton said he tells patients to allow six months to recover from rotator cuff surgery, but Clayton is ahead of schedule.

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“I’m really happy to have it back so I can get back to my other project,” she said.

Creative spark

Clayton already has her new project in mind. It will be the final piece in the trilogy she started with the pieces shown at ArtPrize 2014 and 2017.

The first, created with black markers on a 65ft x 10ft piece of white fabric, depicts various animals gathering in Noah’s Ark. It was called “Noah’s Ark: The Promise” and was exhibited for ArtPrize in front of Bridgewater Place.

In part two, “Noah’s Ark: The Gathering,” she used black markers and a 50′ x 14′ piece of cloth, but in this part, Noah brought a variety of dinosaurs. It was on display at Z’s Bar & Restaurant.

The third will be her most ambitious yet – a 3D play titled Noah’s Ark: The Flood.

This time she will be using colored sharpies. She also hopes to incorporate sound and light effects.

Her friend Donna Jager-Brower plans to sew on animal figures that protrude from the piece.

Clayton works on the artwork in her living room on a 4′ x 8′ piece of steel on the floor. Sometimes she makes mistakes in permanent ink. She lets these serve as creative sparks.

“I wasn’t worried,” she said. “When something has happened, I just say, ‘I wonder what will become of it.'”

As an autodidact, she has always loved art.

“My mother noticed that I was good at art when I was young,” Clayton said.

She has already bought the white cotton material for the final artwork.

“Now I have the rest of my life to have a strong arm,” she said. “I can take my life back.”





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