Author: David Dow

David Dow recently won an art contest. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. For 12-year-old David, the award he received was much more than simple recognition of his talent. It was an affirmation of the fact that there is life after a stroke.

David’s watercolor painting “Autumn in Ohio” was one of four paintings selected to appear on the “Seasons of Ohio” note cards produced by Very Special Arts Ohio (VSAO).

David’s entry competed against nearly 400 other submissions and of the four artists recognized, David was the only child. David and the other winners were honored at a luncheon at the home of Governor George Voinovich in May.

VSAO promotes art, education, and creative expression in children and adults with disabilities.

David was not born with a disability. His childhood was interrupted abruptly when he suffered a massive stroke two years ago. David and his parents were on vacation in Las Vegas in March 1995 when the stroke attacked his brain. “We went on vacation for three days and ended up coming home almost three months later,” his mother, Carol Dow-Richards, said.

David spent the first few weeks after his stroke in a hospital in Las Vegas. He and his family were then flown to the University of Michigan where he spent more time in a hospital bed.

While strokes are relatively common in adults, they are very rare for children. Mrs. Dow-Richards said that one in six Americans will suffer a stroke at some point in their lives but only 10 percent of strokes occur in individuals under the age of 65.

David and his family did not know until he had his stroke that David has a very rare disease called Moya Moya. There are only 100 diagnosed cases of Moya Moya in the United States, David’s mother said. The disease causes blockages in the brain’s blood vessels and results in stroke.

David’s mother also said no two strokes are alike. Some may be very minor while others are extremely debilitating, sometimes even fatal.

David’s stoke left him completely paralyzed on his right side at first. He could not walk or talk at all. He underwent two brain surgeries, the first in May of 1995 and the second six months later. David has also undergone intensive therapy since the stroke. He participates in occupational and physical therapy every week. Speech therapy has helped him to regain the ability to talk, but he still suffers from aphasia, an acquired disorder not uncommon in stroke survivors that affects a person’s ability to communicate.

David can walk now, but still has physical limitations on his right side. He was naturally right-handed and had to learn to use his left hand.

David had many obstacles to face, but he and his family worked hard. His mother sought as much information on stroke recovery as possible and found that it was very important to exercise the brain. “We had him on a fast pace of brain stimulation for over a year. David has done far better than any doctor led us to believe, and he is still improving,” David’s mother said.

David had begun painting with watercolors when he was 8 years old. After the stroke left him unable to participate in many physical activities like rollerblading or bicycling, he focused more of his attention on painting. He learned how to paint with his left hand. David said it was not hard to teach himself to use his left hand, although his mother had been concerned about David trying to paint right after the stroke.

“He came home from the brain surgery and had almost no speech at all. Things were really frustrating for him, and I was against it. I thought it would be frustrating, but he really wanted to paint so he did,” Mrs. Dow-Richards said.

David picked up painting with his left hand rather quickly, and his watercolor teacher, Debbie Marlowe, said he has made tremendous progress. “In the beginning, right after the stroke, he had to do straight lines and zig zags and curves just to get the use of the brush back,” Mrs. Marlowe said. “But he is progressing faster and faster. He always wants to try new techniques, new methods. His subject matter is getting more difficult.” Mrs. Marlowe said David is very talented and advanced in his observations and is painting at an adult level.

David hopes to win more contests and will begin selling his art. He will sell his paintings at Harrison Rally Day and his note cards are currently for sale as well. David and his mother want to use David’s art to teach other people about stroke and aphasia. With the help of his mother, David has written and illustrated a book entitled “Brain Attack” about his stroke and recovery.

He has entered it in a competition and hopes it will be published. His mother said it is very important that books like David’s are published because so many people do not understand how to deal with people who have had strokes, especially those who are aphasic.

For David and many others, aphasia can mean being isolated and ostracized. David’s mother said most people do not understand that aphasia is a language difficulty and not a sign of lesser intelligence. Intellectually, David is still the same bright boy he was before the stroke; he just has trouble expressing and understanding concepts that used to come easily to him. Through his art, David is focusing on what he can do rather than what he can not and is reaching out to others with a message of hope.