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Above: Eileen Shuchat sold her pottery to fundraise for arthritis research

Eileen Shuchat, a patient at Mount Sinai Hospital for more than 20 years, is one of 6 million Canadians living with some form of arthritis or an associated autoimmune disease. These diseases cause chronic, debilitating pain and inflammation and swelling of the joints. While symptoms can be managed, there is no cure.

To cope with the pain and daily challenges of chronic illness, Eileen started making pottery — and discovered that art therapy is an incredible tool for managing not just the physical but also the emotional and spiritual elements of these diseases.

“My pottery began as a very personal healing art for me, and then developed into something I love. It does more than help me physically with my arthritic hands and wrists, elbows and shoulders. It distracts me from my pain and the problems associated with chronic illness," says Eileen. "Pottery helps to bring me a sense of purpose, normalcy, community and joy.”

In November, Eileen sold her hand-made pottery in the Mount Sinai lobby to raise money for the Arthritis Research Foundation, a partner of Sinai Health Foundation. Throughout the day of the sale, Eileen and her husband were moved by the number of physicians, nurses and staff from the hospital and Foundation who visited her table to thank her for her fundraising efforts.

“Making pottery truly is my healing art,” says Eileen, a patient of Dr. Edward Keystone, Director of the Rebecca MacDonald Centre for Arthritis and Autoimmune Diseases. “I do it for the sole purpose of managing my rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis. For me to use the product of my healing art to raise money for arthritis research it’s the most beautiful way of paying forward the care and support I’ve received at Mount Sinai.”

All proceeds from Eileen’s sale were donated in memory of her long-time rheumatologist, the late Dr. Jerry Tenenbaum, and will support arthritis research led by Dr. Keystone and his team.

“Dr. Keystone has a beautiful way of connecting to patients,” says Eileen. “Chronic illness has ripple effects throughout your whole life and he gets that. Both he and Dr. Tenenbaum and the staff at the Rebecca MacDonald Centre for Arthritis and Autoimmune Disease have been a lifeline for me and my husband.”

In addition to raising funds, Eileen was delighted to find that her pottery sale sparked conversation and awareness about arthritis, and how art therapy can be a tool for managing symptoms.

“I was secretly hoping it would be more than a fundraiser,” says Eileen. “I was hoping it would start conversations and raise awareness because arthritis is not a well understood disease, even by those affected by it. So I put up a sign talking about how I used pottery and clay to ease pain and help heal chronic illness and people stopped by to ask, ‘How?’ I hope I planted a seed to help people think of how they can help themselves.”