Arturo Garcia (center) with his wife and children, in front of his self-portrait in the gallery
Arturo Garcia's passion was painting, but he had fallen back on a job as a bartender to pay the bills. During a shift at Tres Margaritas, the restaurant in Lakewood where he worked, he was stricken with abdominal pains that proved to be signs of a rare form of cancer.
At University of Colorado Hospital, Arturo received a state-of-the-art surgery called the Whipple procedure, which halted the cancer's progress, but he still had to fight for his life as his weakened body battled a life-threatening infection for weeks in the hospital. Then came 12 rounds of chemotherapy.
Arturo made it through the ordeal, and the experience changed his life. Distractions and mundane concerns dropped away, and the essentials of his life came into sharper focus: his love for his family, his need for meaning and purpose, and his passion for painting. He vowed to find a way to make art central to his life, and to help others find healing and meaning through art.
Fast-forward three years to 2016, when the Department of Surgery was working on a Surgical Care Report to keep stakeholders informed of the Department's growth and progress. Dr. Richard Schulick, Chair of the Department, wanted the report to go beyond financial figures and lists of accomplishments. Through discussions with faculty and staff, the decision was made to include the personal stories of several patients to illustrate the heart of the work we do in our department. Our team is large, and our activities are complex, but the ultimate goal is simple: improving individual lives.
To illustrate the patients' stories—in a literal sense—the Department reached out to Arturo, who was busily engaged with his new life, painting in a bold new style and selling his work at galleries in Denver. Arturo loved the idea, and the Department, together with UCHealth, commissioned him to paint eight portraits of patients whose lives had been changed by the work of our surgeons. (One of those patients was Arturo himself.) The paintings are featured, in digital form, in the Department's 2017 Surgical Care Report, The Art of Healing.
This summer, Arturo's paintings went on display at the Fulginiti Pavilion on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. On June 22, 2018, the Department of Surgery held a reception to celebrate the exhibition. Arturo had previously "met" his fellow patients only through photographs, but now he got the opportunity to meet them in person. At the reception, he movingly described how these human connections completed the arc of his healing process, which began in the hospital, continued at home and through his work in the studio, and finally came full circle in the community.