Yasmine Elmardi is an arts and crafts kind of girl. The 14-year-old from Valparaiso, Ind., finds healing in creating. She discovered the benefit of art therapy at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health while battling metastatic osteosarcoma. This rare form of bone cancer affects around 400 children per year.
Yasmine’s journey started in the summer of 2014. Active in sports, she began complaining of leg and thigh pain. Her parents Sonya and Mohamed thought it was just a sports injury. “We took her to the emergency room in Merrillville and the doctor said it was much worse and referred us to Riley,” Sonya said. Despite being closer to hospitals in Chicago, they made the choice to drive three hours to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis. “Riley just felt right,” Sonya said.
Yasmine was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, started chemotherapy, and underwent femur and knee replacement, only to learn the cancer had spread to her lungs. Yasmine’s pediatric oncologist, Susanne Ragg, M.D., said treatment is tough for anyone, especially a young teen. “Through all the challenges and setbacks she was really strong and found healing through art,” said Dr. Ragg.
“The staff at Riley was caring and amazing, helping us through hard days,” Sonya said. “It was our home away from home,” she added. Riley Hospital’s art therapists (whose positions are 100 percent funded by philanthropic gifts through Riley Children’s Foundation) helped Yasmine get through her toughest moments by making gifts for other kids in her unit. “She wanted them to be happy,” Sonya said. Last fall Yasmine was chosen to represent Riley at the Penrod Arts Fair in Indianapolis. “It was so much fun being at Penrod,” said Yasmine. “Art is all I do now so it was great being there with Riley.”
After countless surgeries and procedures, Yasmine is now in remission. The five-year survival rate for patients like her with metastatic osteosarcoma is 25 percent, but she is determined to beat the odds. Yasmine is enrolled in several clinical research studies, including one that Dr. Ragg is leading which is looking at serum protein profiles in osteosarcoma patients. Dr.Ragg is concerned outcomes haven’t changed in 20 years, and is hopeful advances in pediatric research will lead to improved treatments so children like Yasmine can have brighter futures.
“Everyone at Riley has taught me to stay strong and positive about my body and that’s what I am going to do,” Yasmine said.
Did you know? The Caroline Symmes Cancer Endowment is working through Riley Children’s Foundation to raise funds to create a new program at Riley Hospital dedicated to investigating solid tumor cancers such as osteosarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, neuroblastoma and Ewing Sarcoma.