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Chopper crash survivor helps others heal with art

By Laura Sharpe, Special to CNN
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Thu March 28, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laura Sharpe survived a helicopter crash in May 2008
  • Sharpe used art to help her heal from injuries and trauma
  • Sharpe started Artists for Trauma to help heal others

Editor's note: 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. 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.

(CNN) -- I am like you in almost every way but one: I survived a tragic and traumatic helicopter crash on California's 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 four-to-six-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.

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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 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, 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.

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