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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Landscape of a Life

This weekend I painted Donna Cryer’s jacket in a park filled with children.  I was running a booth at a local fair and representing Christ Lutheran Church, my art and the wonder of playing with Legos.  Our booth was a very different type of booth from the others in the park.  Most booths were operated by local organizations as fundraisers.  The Lions made popcorn, the Cub Scouts made French fries, and so on.   Each booth team was working so very hard on fundraising that they had little time to explain their mission or talk to potential new members.  When I registered our booth as a non-profit, I was quickly asked, “What are you selling as your fundraiser?”  I responded, ”Oh, we aren’t focused on fundraising, we just want to let the kids to be able to play a free game and learn about activities at Church.”  

Yep, we were rather odd.
Painting in the booth

I explained Donna’s story to many children as I taught them how to build structurally sound Lego towers.  The children looked at the jacket, which appeared to be a landscape and looked at a picture of the human liver that I was referencing while painting.  “Why the liver?” they asked.  I explained I was painting the life story of Donna Cryer and she had a liver transplant 20 years ago and that experience has affected her entire life path.

This is Donna’s jacket: “The Landscape of a Life.”

"The Landscape of a Life" a jacket for Donna Cryer

I saw Donna Cryer at health events in DC for the past 4 years.  Her husband and business partner Dennis Cryer, MD often accompanied her to such events.  They seemed to dance within the crowd, gentling circling the conversations and always returning to each other.  They represent CryerHealth a consultancy with a mission to improve communication of doctors and patients.

You cannot help but notice Donna in a room.  She is beautiful.  Her face shines with warmth and her eyes sparkle with intellect.  She always wears the most becoming dresses and suits.  She looks the consummate healthy professional.  You would never know how much Donna has suffered in her life.

Donna is a 20-year liver transplant survivor with activeCrohn’s disease.  She is well aware if the challenge of chronic disease management.  She has coupled this intimate health experience with a law degree and is an amazing advocate for other patients. 

Within this painting I represent her love of the law with a scales of justice that doubles as a children’s toy.  The weights and measures trays are replaced with tire swings and happy children. 

The weights and measures

Donna as a child drives by in a sporty red pedal car with a vanity plate: ”LIVRLDY.” She likes to drive health care discussions and often does it through her own determination. 


As I explained the wonder that is Donna, I was showing a crowd of girls how to build their Lego towers.  These young ladies had never had much exposure to building technique.  Many of the girls just kept stacking block upon block and would watch their towers fall as the game began.  I asked the crowd, “Do you know about bricking?  Here, place this brick on top of the two other bricks at a point of connection.  See how strong your wall is when you build it this way?”  The girls smiled up at me and quickly built much stronger walls and towers.

The girls building

Bricking is a great metaphor for the work Donna does. She connects people and organizations helping them build strong foundations in patient advocacy.  She helps them on a personal level, and much like our little booth in the park, Donna well knows sometimes you must focus on education and advocacy over fundraising.

I salute you Donna for your bravery, perseverance and dedication to helping patients throughout the landscape of care.   


  1. This blog post was inspiring to me, because while I feel it is very important to fundraise for a cause or organization, I also believe it is just as essential to educate people on a specific health issue. I think it is especially important to inform younger people about these issues so that they can learn more about what it is and they may be involved in one day finding a treatment or cure. Your Walking Gallery Movement is a creative and unique way to share people's stories and it is truly inspirational.

    1. Thank you! I am so glad you had a chance to read it.