Mikaela Sterenberg has had a lot of blood drawn since being diagnosed with a rare blood disorder more than 2 years ago.
But now it’s Mikaela who’s doing the drawing. And the painting. And anything else art-related that can fill her palette.
She may even pursue her medical masterpieces further to become an illustrator for medical encyclopedias and brochures.
After Mikaela became gravely ill on a family vacation in Gatlinburg two years ago, Julia Steinke, MD, a pediatric kidney specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, diagnosed her with paroxismal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a rare blood disease in which her body treats her own blood as a foreign entity.
“Basically her body recognizes that her blood is missing a protein,” Mikaela’s mom, Missy, explained. “It attacks her blood cells as you and I would attack a cold.”
Doctors started her on antibiotics and other medications and performed two blood transfusions to prepare her for her first infusion of Soliris, a medication designed to shut down her complementary immune system so it would no longer attack her blood.
The Hamilton High School senior visits Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for infusions every other Tuesday. She’ll continue that pattern for life, according to Missy, “unless God decides to heal her.”
But Mikaela isn’t spinning the world bleak because of her condition. She’s painting quite a different picture, and pursuing with passion a colorful career.
“She absolutely loves to draw,” Missy said. “She was on the Youth Advisory Council for Art Prize last year. She hopes to pursue a career in illustration or medical illustration. Her art teacher told her, ‘You’re at the hospital anyway, that would be a great career for you.’”
Mikaela said she was proud to design the hug-themed T-shirt for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, which featured gold ribbons representing childhood cancer.
“I just love it,” Mikaela said of her passion for art. “You can take something from your head and make it your own or what you’d like it to be.”
The young artist also does face painting for Spectrum Health hematology-oncology and end-of-chemo parties as well as events for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Usually the kids are pretty excited,” she said. “Some just stare. Some are smiling from ear-to-ear.”
Her portfolio includes pencil sketches, paintings, watercolor and acrylic pieces.
“I think I’ve pretty much exhausted all the art classes at my school,” Mikaela said. “But medical illustration sounds interesting, basically drawing different parts of the body for textbooks.”
She said it’s really interesting and cool to figure out what’s going on inside your body. “If I can combine that with art, it’s like two-for-one.”
While some may complain about twice-monthly treatments, Mikaela paints a rosier picture.
“I feel like if I had not gotten my disease, I wouldn’t be doing half of the face-painting things that I’m doing now,” she said. “I would have never even met the people I know if I had not gotten this disease.”