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September 5th, 2012
08:08 AM ET

Chopper crash survivor helps others heal with art

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week we introduce you to Laura Sharpe, founder of Artists For Trauma, who has first-hand knowledge of the power of art as an effective healing tool.

I am like you in almost every way but one: I survived a tragic and traumatic helicopter crash on Catalina Island on May 24, 2008, Memorial Day weekend.

Trauma is such a part of the life process. Level 1 trauma is more prevalent than you may know. It happens in an instant. It’s unexpected, devastating and life altering!

“Divine intervention” were the first words I spoke when I finally came out of a 4 to 6 week coma following that horrific helicopter crash that took the lives of three lovely humans and almost killed me, our oldest daughter and our friend.

I began to understand more deeply and cognitively what “divine intervention” truly meant as I experienced more than two excruciating years of surgery, loss and recovery before I could walk, gather my thoughts and begin to pick up the pieces of my life.

I am so very grateful to all the people who went out of their way to help me survive - my family and so many of our close friends, especially my husband and our two daughters. I had never thought about what happens when someone experiences trauma, the massive effort that is required of family, medical professionals and friends.

It truly takes a “village."

Many of my artist friends helped me to facilitate my art in such a way I was able to transcend above and beyond the all-encompassing physical pain.

These six special humans and artists were instrumental in artistically collaborating with me in such a way my recovery was dramatically and positively impacted. They are Cheryl Ekstrom (sculptor), Judy Starkman (photographer and film director), Bill Lagattuta,(painter and sculptor) Brad Howe (sculptor), Zari Wigfall (dancer and choreographer) and Christopher Reutinger (concert violinist).

I learned first hand that not everyone processes trauma and their recovery in the same way. Not everyone is comfortable with processing publicly or artistically. I respect this and sincerely try to respect others and their right to process their own way.

I started AFT by creating the foundational structuring of the non-profit organization and funding all efforts , devoting a huge part of my time to making this happen.

I met and found many who wanted to help AFT reach as many people as possible. This began with volunteer artists who give of their time and talents and medical professionals like Dr. Andrea Feinberg and Grace Lee, O.D.M. who shared our creative healing format with their patients.

We also found friends like the Veterans Park Conservancy in Los Angeles and Operation Mend of UCLA who work with our returning veterans and the Los Angeles VA. Also Dr. Andrew Frankel  with the Lasky Clinic and Dr. Carlos Ayala, a Lt Col. with the U.S. Air Force, who are facial plastic surgeons who participate with Faces of Honor and Faces of Change.

It sounds like a cliché, but I feel so grateful to reach across the nation to help civilian and military level 1 trauma survivors.  Artists For Trauma is starting to have the kind of impact I dreamed of.

With so many of our service men and women coming back with life-changing injuries, we need all the help we can get.

I have been touched by people who have connected with us as patients and supporters through our AFT website.

We are all truly beautiful in our own configurations.  Beautiful is the integrity of that which is within.  Art allows us the opportunity to re-connect with this powerful internal place of self acceptance.

That's why I believe in Artists For Trauma…where recovery is an art.


soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. frankie

    Good for you to overcome such overwhelming odds ,having been in a helicopter crash myself.The odds of overcoming injury and mental issues arising from an accident like that leaves a long and lasting scar(s)that some may truly never overcome.Your story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that one can rise above the ashes !truly an inspiration to all

    September 5, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • OyVey

      Oh Frankie, you're such a copter crash groupie!

      September 5, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse |
  2. lfisher

    this woman is an amazing person

    September 6, 2012 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr Olu Bamgbade

    Lucky lady with good lady luck. Inspirational story. Kudos to the Artists-For-Trauma group.

    September 7, 2012 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ayman

    Yahua, I will send the curse on you and curse your very blessing. Indeed I have aledary cursed it, since there is not a single one of you who takes it to heart. Now watch how I am going to paralyze your arm and throw dung in your face the dung from YOUR very solemnities (their feasts) and sweep you away with it. Then you shall learn that it is I who have given you this warning of My intention to abolish My covenant with Levi, says Yahua. My covenant was with him. It stood for life and peace, and these were what I gave him; it stood for fear and trembling, and he respected me and stood in awe of my name. The teaching of truth was in his mouth, falsehood was not to be found on his lips; he walked with Me in integrity and virtue; he converted many from sinning. The lips of the high priest ought to safeguard knowledge; his mouth is where instruction should be sought, since he is the messenger of Yahua. But you have strayed from the Way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching. YOU HAVE DESTROYED THE COVENANT OF LEVI, says Yahua. And so in My turn have made you contemptible and vile in the eyes of the whole people in repayment of the way you have not kept to My paths but had shown partiality in your administration. In another place we learn that Yahua will purify the sons of Levi. That means that Yahua will do the cleansing. That cannot possible come from any other source including Judah. They are still living in the way they learned from Babel. The priests up to this point no longer have had the power and authority to do what they should have been doing all along.If the priests were appoint a place, I don't think they can do this until after they have been cleansed. So we are back to square one. Either Yahua will guide us to the appointed places, or people will start going out to look in the desert or to look in the hidden rooms about which Yahushua said, do not go out; do not believe. It is the secret places of His dwelling where only HE can hide us.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.