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The colors of hope

Because of hand tremors, Joseph Lambert now paints with his fingertips instead of a brush, but in painting he finds healing and hope.

Providence Portland
Medical Center

The hospital provided $59,956,000 in community benefits in 2010, including $26,708,000 in free or reduced-cost care to patients in need.

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Over years of treatment for a devastating disease, the halls of Providence Portland Medical Center have long since become familiar to Joseph Lambert. But last year one softly sunlit corridor opened up a special kind of healing for him.

There, in the hospital's community art gallery, 37 paintings created by Joseph lined the walls for the enjoyment of people passing between the main hospital and Providence Cancer Center. Many of the paintings, rendered in broad strokes and vibrant colors, arose from memories of the Willamette Valley farm where he once worked the land.

Joseph's exhibit reflected an emergence from despair and isolation. Diagnosed 12 years ago with hemachromatosis, a genetic disease that attacks the joints and organs, he suffers from chronic pain and fatigue. Yet amid the losses in his life he rediscovered his talent, and his love, for painting.

"Painting made me realize that the disease could not take away what was within me," Joseph says.

Joseph's paintings are both vibrant and serene.

The trained artist's creations cover the walls and overflow crates in his small Portland apartment. No longer able to control a brush because of tremors, Joseph paints with his fingertips, massaging oil pastels onto paper or canvas.

To him painting is therapy - a kind of meditation, he says - and his well-received exhibit at Providence Portland was a healing reaffirmation.

For Joseph's medical care and rehabilitation, the hospital has written off charges beyond what the state's Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan, pays. Just as important, he says, has been the encouragement of the staff.

He recalls walking the hospital halls one day, hurting and depressed after a painful diagnostic procedure. "So many people who know me are saying, 'Hello, how are you doing?' By that time I felt OK. The people made it so I was OK. And if that is not emotional support, I don't know what it is."