April 19, 2019

'Tis the season for giving! That's why we're bringing back some of our favourite stories from 2019. Enjoy!

I am a new parent, a cardiac surgery resident, an industrial designer, an artist and a patient.

My dream is to integrate art, design and medicine.

Instead of being a physician-scientist, I will be a physician-artist.

Instead of having a research lab, I will have an art and design studio dedicated to integrating art, design and medicine and inspiring others to integrate their passions and to never give up.

What drives me?

If you ask my parents, they would laugh and say that I’m just stubborn.

To be honest, I really don’t know. I just love building things and I’m passionate about the world around me. I’ve always wanted to make a difference, even if it is trivial or silly, like making organs out of paper.

I wouldn’t describe myself as succeeding at a high level. In fact, I would describe myself as a continuous failure who just doesn’t give up (hence the stubbornness).

Michiko Maruyama created an interactive book to help tell her incredible story.

I literally drink my coffee from a cup that says, “Never give up.” It’s my life motto. I love judo, but as a kid I was never good at it. I kept collecting participation ribbons until one day, to everyone’s surprise, I won a tournament. My hard work and passion for the sport paid off. I even continued to win, and became a national judo champion.

School was no different.

I had a speech impediment that affected my speaking and reading as a child.

While my siblings got to attend an outdoor summer camp with their friends, I was in reading camp with all the other slow learners. We literally read books all summer, which was painful for someone with difficulty speaking.

Many years later, with lots of speech language therapy, I’m still in school. Technically, this is my 15th year of university and I don’t plan on quitting any time soon. #studentforlife

I used to be terrified of blood and needles.

But I am now in my fourth year of cardiac surgery residency. I was forced to overcome my fears when I became a patient.

During my industrial design undergrad, I was diagnosed with a rare type of tumor in my left leg. I underwent surgery, radiation and later chemotherapy. Everything that I saw as a patient inspired me as a designer, so I switched from toy design to medical design to medicine.

After one of my surgeries, I had a blood clot. I had to inject myself with heparin twice a day and get my blood tested all the time, which helped me overcome my fear of blood and needles. Now, I’m training to become an open-heart surgeon. Who would have guessed that? Definitely not me.

I was worried that I would lose touch with my artistic side.

When I started medical school, I carried around a sketchbook to stay connected to my art. I still do. While other students took notes, I doodled.

I doodled my way through medical school. I created a website to showcase my medical doodles and promote art and medicine. As a resident physician, I find that a simple doodle can communicate so much information to patients. I’ll often doodle their heart to describe what’s wrong and how we are going to fix it.

During residency, I also completed a master’s degree in industrial design. My thesis, “Changing the World One Toy at a Time,” focused on the integration of cardiac surgery and toy design to create innovative medical educational resources.

‘Why toy design?’

As an industrial designer, I have always been interested in the potential of toys to create social change and educate children. Since children learn through play, what better way to teach them about their health than by creating educational toys?

I also believe that deep down, adults still love toys and learn through play, which is why the majority of my toy designs are for adults, too.

For example, my “Organami” models are paper-based anatomical models of organs. I also create medical colouring books. Other toys include the Sternotomy Bear, a paper-based doll used to teach children about their cardiac condition, their surgery and what to expect during their hospital stay.

I believe education should be free and available to everyone.

All of my educational toys are open source and free. I’m a poor student with a mound of student debt living off a resident salary but I still want to help fellow learners.

How do I balance it all?

I don’t.

After failing so many times, I honestly don’t believe in achieving balance. Instead, I integrate. I Venn diagram everything in my life. I overlap my love for art with my passion for medicine to create medical art.

My son’s first words are going to be “aorta” and “mitral” because he is my number one study buddy. Date nights with my husband consist of art and design. Our garage and much of our house is literally an art studio.

What’s my superpower?

I have no ability to become bored. It’s true. My imagination is way too powerful to let boredom sink in. There are so many things to do, places to see, people to talk to and things to think about!