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HeART-project, the synergy between van Cardiology and Art

 

Aforementioned scientific endeavors to unravel ventricular arrhythmogenesis in the genetically susceptible heart were paralleled by periodic art-based interventions, designated the “HeArt project”. Art-based brainstorm sessions, art-painting exercises, expression experiments using abstract pieces of art, and outdoor expeditions were tools utilized to lurk the researcher out of the scientific comfort zone with the aim to position his/her work within the broader community, to improve communication, to create self-awareness, to inspire, and to stimulate out-of-the-box thinking. Claudia Volders, a renowned artistic painter with long-standing expertise on the intersections between art and science (www.claudiavolders.nl), coordinated these encounters. The artist on her side benefits from these scientific interactions as the excitement of cutting-edge technology or scientific breakthroughs sparks inspiration.

 

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Within the HeArt project, a micro expedition was planned and effected to explore the presumed birthplaces of the designated ancestor couples of the Worm pedigree. We hypothesized that a physical visit would trigger new ideas relevant for the scientific progress of the Worm study. Our first observation was evident differences in the local infrastructure of Bank (Germany, ancestor couple B) and Waubach (the Netherlands, ancestor couple A). The former being a sparsely populated crossroad in the midst of farm lands, the latter being a busy intersection that used to be part of an important Roman main trait road called the Via Belgica. The Via Belgica connected Boulogne-sur-Mer (Gesoriacum, France) with Cologne (Colonia Agrippina, Germany) and was crucial for the local and regional economy, the military defenses and governance (www.viabelgica.nl). We hypothesized that historically population (and thus mutation) migration occurred predominantly along these routes in the East/West direction. Genealogical investigations confirmed these migration patterns. Therefore, extramural medical communications and societal alerts are concentrated to the Euregio Meuse-Rhine. Moreover, unplanned personal encounters with German inhabitants of the largely uninformed and ungenotyped Bank area undisputedly brought forward the psychosocial and societal impact of a population subjected to increased susceptibility to cardiac arrest. These interpersonal communications reinforced the importance of disentangling the contributors to VF across boarders, and motivated the researcher to strive for scientific excellence and perseverance.

With the increasing complexities of science and the patient-centered care, the medical field is faced with the challenges of doctor-patient communication and shared-decision making. Knowledge transfer from the physician to the patient and vise versa benefits from good communication skills, empathic capabilities, bilateral experience/expertise and by far exceeds a simple “Dr. Google consultation”. Nevertheless, we have dwelled from ancient medicine where ‘healing arts’ was comprised primarily of tending and caring for the sick besides adopting some primitive interventions to the realm of evidence-based medicine tends where with reduced time slots came along with blunted emotional sensitivity. Sophisticated artistic capacities of the treating physician such as the art of empathy, humanity, communication, observational skills, creativity, and outside the box thinking would benefit knowledge transfer and patient-centered care. In the HeArt project, art-expression experiments using abstract pieces of art and artistic brainstorming enhanced the physician’s self-awareness/exploration and identified her strengths and weaknesses, elements important for empathic but expert communication with patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Next to conventional physician-patient communication tools, we used objects of art to serve as a supplementary vehicle to transfer complex scientific knowledge and stimulate interaction between the medical scientist and the patient. We hypothesized that jointly experienced scientific achievements create larger social community support and willingness to participate to any scientific endeavor. As such, the HeArt project exposition was part of Netherlandse Vereniging voor Cardiologie (NVVC’s) “Kunst uit het hart” exposition (2013) and is currently to be seen and experienced at the “HVC poli” of the MUMC+. Hereafter, the HeArt exposition will move to the outpatient clinic of the Zuyderland Medical Center.

As the ultimate creative exercise, Claudia and I jointly painted the book cover of this dissertation. Depicted is the hieroglyphic writing for the first known female physician (“swnwt”) named Peseshet using the semicircular loaf. Symbolically, DNA helices form the basis of the “ieb”, the hieroglyphic depicting of the heart. The handles exemplify the arteries and veins to the organ. The ieb is reminiscent of the water vase next to Virgin Mary during the Annunciation (Arthur Hacker, 1892, Tate Britain, London) and stands for the feminine source. Furthermore, the central display of the heart is distorted by dysrhythmias.

Overall, this art-bases coaching positioned the scientist and the PhD project in a broader perspective much beyond the confined and familiar hospital environment. A PhD candidate benefits from artistic skills like writing, creativity, graphical design, passion, critical appraisal, and communicating with patients and professional peers within a politically correct environment. The HeART project exemplifies the unique relation and synergy between art and science, through an open and creative interaction resulting in mutual exchange of knowledge, capabilities and visions. This process can result in new persepctives on the scientist's work, new research questions, or pieces of arts.