When art helps you to rise

The Carewest Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre is decorated with floral paintings which, at first glance, don’t give away the artist’s identity. When you look more closely, you notice the signature. Katie Gerke.

Katie, a resident of Fanning affectionately called “The Mouth Painter”, has been living at the Centre since 2006.

In 1988, at the age of 24, after finishing a stationary bike workout, Katie’s right leg gave out from under her. She later tripped walking away from the bike but blamed these events on her worn out shoes and tired legs.

The following year while traveling to Bahrain and Greece for work, Katie found herself walking crookedly, oversleeping, and nearly falling down a steep hill while on a walk. She explained away her overpowering
fatigue and clumsiness on the scorching heat.

When she got home to Calgary, she went about looking for answers. Eventually, Katie would receive a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS).

True to Katie’s character, she fought through the isolation, loss of self, and depression that came along with the disease by getting involved in advocacy work. Three years after her diagnosis, she had joined the Board of Directors of the MS Society of Calgary and the Disabled Sailing Association of Alberta.

She moved into the Fanning Centre after several changes to her physical health, her career, and her housing. Within a year after her arrival, Katie started painting.

“I was pushed toward art out of sheer boredom,” Katie confessed. “Once I’d made up my mind to start painting, I asked a staff member to help me build a custom easel and palette stand.”

Katie enjoying Carewest Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre’s garden that is grown and maintained by residents through quality of life programs

Katie paints by mouth with a skill that rivals most traditional painters.

“I use photographs as reference shots to paint everything from flowers to the family dog,” Katie shared.

Katie saw how her fellow residents were craving their own creative outlet. Whether creating with their hands or their mouths, or through reading, the written word, or painting, Katie decided to bring even more art to Fanning.

“I now teach an acrylic painting class at the Centre that attracts up to 15 people at a time,” she said proudly.

Katie’s art has challenged her in many ways. From launching an art website, to painting 6,000 Christmas cards one year, to selling original pieces and prints, it stretches her skills.

She credits her painting, her faith, and her ability to focus on the things she can control for keeping her strong and for lifting her up when times get tough.

Programs like art therapy are made possible through the generosity of the community. You can make a donation to help purchase art supplies and to offer a broad range of art programs!

Other articles you might be interested in:

When grief becomes healing

The late Reverend Bob Glasgow connected people in their grief to communities of healing. Now, 12 years after it’s opening the Bob Glasgow Grief Support Centre continues to be a place of healing and hope.

Read More
Building a better quality of life

At 34, Allan loves sports, enjoys getting outdoors, going bowling, playing basketball and going to outings around the city. He is like many peers his age – except, six years ago at the age of 28, Allan was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury following an incident that caused Allan’s brain to be deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time.

Read More
Ten-year-old best friends set a shining example as local philanthropists

Best friends Airia Wisby, Laura Hogan, and Molly Rieger are excellent examples of what we can do in the face of uncertainty.

Read More

Transform Healthcare
With Just a Click

When it comes to making a difference in the health of Albertans, every little bit has the potential to make a big impact – and it’s never been easier.