From Master Diver to Paraplegic

How Art Transformed A Life

Maui boy, Dennis Okada, was a double black belt martial artist as well as a master diver with over 30 years of experience. One day, he was tank-diving 150 feet below sea level.  He miscalculated his time and came up too quickly.  Dennis got decompression sickness, more commonly known as the bends. After weeks in the decompression chamber, he arrived at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific (REHAB). At REHAB, Dennis was able to make physical gains with his upper body, but unfortunately, he would never walk again.

Dennis had to learn how to adjust to life in a wheelchair. Although he continued with rigorous strength training, it was his emotional recovery that became his biggest obstacle.

Fortunately, Dennis was introduced to REHAB’s Creative Arts Program through the urging of a fellow patient artist. In time, art transformed Dennis and Dennis found his stride. His inner perfectionist has helped him to manifest beautiful paintings. Today, he is considered one of the programs senior artists and is a mentor to new patients.

Dennis explains, “Finishing a canvas gives such a wonderful sense of accomplishment and the confidence to continue.”

Last November, Dennis was honored with receiving the first annual Scholarship for Arts Education. Funded by Louis Vuitton, the scholarship will provide opportunities for Dennis to learn new art techniques, as well as mentor and encourage other patients in the program to discover their talents and develop confidence and independence.

These programs would not be possible without the generous support from donors like you.  Every dollar makes a difference, from purchasing paint supplies to funding our art instructor’s time.  Mahalo for your support.

dennis family

If you would like to view artwork from Dennis and other participants in the program, join us on March 22nd at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. Exhibition will feature a wide array of REHAB patient artists as they reflect on how art transformed their lives.  The exhibit will be open to the public through April 14th.

The REHAB Foundation established the Creative Arts Program in 1994 through generous funding from Louis Vuitton. The program was designed to inspire and promote creativity while patients learn to physically and emotionally cope with their new abilities. For more information about the Creative Arts Program and the Scholarship for Arts Education, please call (808) 566-3790 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

To read Dennis’ full story, look for the Winter Issue of our From the Heart Newsletter in your mailbox. If you would like to be added to the mailing list contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (808) 566-3451.