Artists bring awareness to vascular disease through new Northeast mural

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Medical researchers and artists are sharing an important message about vascular health with Northeast Kansas City through art.

Local artists are working on a mural near Prospect and Independence Avenue, part of the Show Me PAD project to raise awareness about peripheral artery disease (PAD) and how to recognize and address it. The vascular disease causes pain in the legs while walking. The condition affects 8.5 million Americans over the age of 40, and people living in center city neighborhoods are especially at risk for late diagnosis.

A collaboration between medical researchers at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Yale University, University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC), Mattie Rhodes Center, the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Paseo Gateway neighborhood, the group has been working on the project for over a year, through the pandemic.

Artists Carmen Moreno, Jason Wilcox, Isaac Tapia and Rodrigo Alvarez began working on the mural in late March as spring made its first slow appearance in Kansas City.

“PAD can cause pain while walking, and if left untreated, can progress to a stage where individuals are dealing with non-healing wounds and amputations. PAD is also associated with a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke,” said project lead Dr. Kim Smolderen, Ph.D., FAHA, of Yale University’s Vascular Medicine Outcomes (VAMOS) program, formerly of Saint Luke’s and UMKC.

The finished mural will depict how people can recognize and address PAD with screenings, walking, quitting smoking, and other healthy lifestyle changes.

This community art project is built on Smolderen’s earlier research, funded through two grants from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Her earlier work studied patients’ quality of life as they navigated care for a new diagnosis of PAD. Patients from the Kansas City area and across the U.S., the Netherlands, and Australia took part in that study.

Researchers Christina M. Pacheco, J.D., MPH, of Saint Luke’s, and Janette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., of UMKC, received a second award for funding through the Eugene Washington Engagement Awards Program from PCORI to create innovative ways to disseminate the research findings back into the community.

Typically, studies are published in medical journals, but the findings don’t usually reach the people who it might benefit most, Smolderen said. This project works to disseminate that information to the Northeast community.

“We previously did a big cohort study where we found patients with a diagnosis of a vascular disease and documented the issues as they were seeking care for their disease,” Smolderen said. “We wanted to share that information back to the community where we enrolled patients from.”

Smolderen said research shows that residents of areas like Northeast have a higher chance of presenting late with these conditions and a higher chance of having complications, which can often be avoided if treated early.

“The neighborhoods that we are targeting [with this message] are predominately African American and also have lower life expectancy than other areas,” Smolderen said. “We focused on areas that have more access to care issues and access to resource challenges.”

The artists and researchers will unveil the mural on Sat., April 10 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the east corner of Prospect and Independence Avenue. At the unveiling, food trucks, music, art making and information will be available for the community to enjoy. All activities will take place outdoors.

A resource map has been developed to hand out at the unveiling and through neighborhood churches that will direct people to PAD screenings, resources for quitting smoking, walking trails, and more.

Northeast Kansas City is home to dozens of murals, many of which share positive and healthy messages with the community, bring cultures together, or add color to once drab buildings.

“For me particularly, it’s a great opportunity being that my whole family is from the Northeast, and so it’s awesome and it makes my family proud that I’ve left a mark here,” artist Rodrigo Alvarez said. “I can tell my kids, ‘Hey, I did that.’”

Alvarez often collaborates with well-known Northeast artist and muralist Isaac Tapia. They have nearly 45 murals throughout Kansas City.

The artists are using a combination of brush and spray painting, and are making quick work of the project, taking advantage of early spring weather.

“Northeast is made up of a large part immigrant community and those folks are underfunded all the time, and they just don’t necessarily have a voice all the time so that’s why it makes sense here,” Alvarez said. “I think that imagery is a universal language that we all share, so we’re trying to convey the PAD message through it.”

Using art to share this message removes language barriers for many in the neighborhood, in addition to improving the side of a building facing a vacant lot. Across the street, a new building is going up that will include storefronts, restaurant space and apartments.

“From what I’ve seen in the past, it’s always been that when a mural is placed in an area, it kind of revitalizes itself in a sense,” Alvarez said. “Where a mural goes, developers follow, not necessarily just development. It makes the neighbor next door think to mow their grass more often, or paint their front door. It livens up the place a bit.”

Artist Jason Wilcox was encouraged to raise awareness for PAD in this way.
“It affects a lot of people who don’t even know it, so I guess if you put the message out there it will alert people so they can do more research about it and know what they’re dealing with,” Wilcox said.

Although this is Wilcox’s first mural – he usually paints on canvas – he likes the way murals like this one tie the art world to the community and makes it more accessible.

More information about PAD is available on the Show Me PAD website. Updates on the mural can be found on the project’s Instagram account.

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