Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Case Study #118 - Rebecca Planting in her Garden

Rebecca prep sketch

Rebecca Tovar was in her late 20’s when she was diagnosed with NF1 through spontaneous mutation. In her early 40’s she had a large fibroma removed from her left psoas muscle due to intense pain, while wrestling with the fact that surgery could impair her ability to walk unassisted. Worry started to set in but with family support and faith in God, she knew she could persevere. The surgery was a success but left her with permanent numbness in her thigh.

Despite having NF, she was grateful to eventually become a patient at Mayo Clinic Phoenix, and her team of doctors, led by Drs. Porter and Noland. While at Mayo, she’s had multiple scans, biopsies, and other tests, as well as a successful surgery to remove debilitating fibromas from her right hand. Rebecca continues to battle NF as she is dealing with large fibromas in other critical areas. Her oldest son, Jacob, also a Mayo patient, has a more severe case of NF, while her middle son, Noah, has a slight case, and her youngest son, Joshua, is unaffected.

She’d like to bring awareness to others about NF by participating in various NF related functions and activities. She’s happy to have her husband, Chris, and entire family’s support by continuing to pray for her and be with her. Rebecca doesn’t want to be defined by NF and strives to stay positive despite it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Case Study #117 - Antwan Motivating Others

"Antwan Motivating Others" 30" x 24" Oil on Canvas

Born and raised in the bustling heart of Kansas City, Missouri, Antwan faced a unique path in life. He was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis and severe scoliosis at the tender age of two. His journey has been one marked by trials and tribulations. Yet, Antwan refused to be defined by these conditions, firmly embracing the belief, “I have neurofibromatosis, but it does not have me.”

Beneath Antwan’s surface, neurofibromas attempted to lay claim over his life, an unseen struggle that led to chronic restrictive lung disease. His body transformed, and with it, his life changed. A ventilator and supplemental oxygen became Antwan's constant companions. He was 29 when he first had to start using the ventilator due to his lung having restricted space and not able to fully expand. It started out just when he was sleeping, but overtime his lungs just grew weaker and now he has been having to use the ventilator full time now. Throughout his NF journey, Antwan met adversity head-on. He has undergone 18 surgeries and faced daily medical challenges that would cause many to lose hope. He recognized that adversities did not dictate his destiny; they were stepping stones shaping him into the man he has become.

In Antwan’s younger years, doctors cast a shadow over his future, predicting a significantly shortened life expectancy. Contrary to their predictions, Antwan has proven them wrong. At the age of 37, when doctors believed he wouldn’t see past eight, Antwan’s journey through life has been one of unwavering perseverance and determination. He chose to live life on his terms and not be constrained by circumstances.

Prep Sketch
Antwan’s resolve and tenacity propelled him through undergraduate school receiving a degree in social work at Kansas University and a Masters of Business Administration at Baker University. These milestones are not just academic achievements but symbols of his resilience and testaments of his ability to navigate challenges, affirming his belief that circumstances do not define us.

Antwan channeled his trials and tribulations into strength and passion. This ignited within him a desire to inspire and support others facing their hardships. He eagerly shares his conviction that individuals are not victims of their circumstances but architects of their destinies, capable of overcoming adversity.

Antwan’s story is a beacon of hope and resilience, reminding others that it is possible to rise above even the most daunting obstacles. While neurofibromatosis is a part of his life, it does not define who Antwan is but is a facet of his complex existence.

The painting that bears witness to Antwan's journey is a testament to his indomitable spirit. It portrays defiance in the face of neurofibromatosis and celebrates the power of the human spirit. The canvas is his battleground, where adversity is met with resilience, challenges are confronted with courage, and it becomes a symbol of victory over a disorder that threatens but never conquers.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Case Study #116 - Frankie's New Wheels

"Frankie's New Wheels" Oil on Canvas. 2023. 40" x 30"

Franklin was born with a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis (NF). He was 4 months old when his parents were told he would never walk, talk or have the abilities more than an infant. They were warned he likely wouldn’t live to see his first birthday.Today, Franklin is a happy 13-year-old boy, always smiling and ready to play or have a book read to him. He loves to shake hands with everyone he meets and often greets everyone at church and school with a handshake or a high-five. He knows his colors, shapes and most body parts. He often will scootch on his bottom to the table with his IPad on it and drag it to someone to start his music videos. He currently is in love with Miranda Lambert. Franklin uses modified sign language or pictures to tell us many things: when he is hungry, wants to go to bed, watch videos, play games, or get on the bus to go to school. Daily he walks, using a walker for support, nearly 2 miles at school. He goes to the pool twice a week to do water therapy and get a few piggyback rides in the water too. 

Prep Sketch
The family has a nurse that helps Franklin 40 hours each week. She attends school with him and accompanies him to the many many doctors appointments. Franklin sees seven specialists and many therapists on a regular basis. Franklin is trach and g-tube dependent. He needs assistance to walk, bathe, eat, and dress. In 2014, Franklin’s airway had become so compressed it was less than 3 millimeters at it’s most narrow. His tumor was wrapped into his airway and down into his heart valve compromising both and yet they continued to grow at a very rapid rate. The family was told to again prepare to bury their child. Doctors were stumped about what to do and reached out to others. His scans were sent to Cincinnati Children’s and doctors there agreed to see him. In early 2015 a longer trach was placed in Franklin’s airway to open it up and stabilize it. In 2016, Franklin qualified to start an investigational drug. In the first 2 ½ years that followed the family drove 12 hours each way to get this life saving drug. They logged 726 hours driving, over 41,380 miles or nearly twice around the entire Earth. Franklin's family spent over 119 nights in a hotel room. In that same 2 ½ years Frankie’s targeted tumors shrunk 33%. His family continues to travel, and his tumors continue to remain stable 7 years later. Today, Frankie is stable and the healthiest he has ever been. He is smart, funny, cute, onery, and a flirt. Every day he shows us how to live life to the fullest. This is NF.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Case Study # 114 and #115 - Thad's Eye Surgery

The Journey Starts Today (Before and After)
Oil on Canvas
Diptych, Each 36" x 36"

Thad is a Pokémon-loving third grader who was born in Washington, DC and lives in Mesa, AZ with his mom, sister, bonus dad, and bonus brother and sister. He is our courageous little king (that’s what his name means!) and we love him so. You couldn’t meet a stronger, more brave young man. His favorite color is red, and he has some pretty awesome signature dance moves. If you meet him, definitely challenge him to a dance off. Also, if you know how to launch a successful YouTube channel, let him know cause that’s his dream. And he wants to be a life coach when he grows up. We think he’d be great because he has been doing hard things since the beginning.

This painting shows Thad's Enucleation procedure which is performed as a last resort, most often due to ocular tumors. The swelling, bruising and discomfort subsides over time. Six to eight weeks following enucleation, a patient will visit with an ocularist to fit a custom ocular prosthesis.Once the contents of the eye are removed, an implant is placed into the scleral shell. The sclera, Tenons, and conjunctiva are then closed over the implant and a temporary (clear plastic) conformer is put in place. The real artificial eye (prosthesis) is made in about 6-8 weeks.Thad had to have fat removed from his side (they had a really hard time finding any) and put into his eye cavity during a second, unplanned, surgery because the first time it didn’t take. All in all, he had three eye surgeries for the enucleation. Two for the original removal and one to lift the lid. This is in addition to the surgeries he had as a baby on his eye.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Case Study # 113 - Eli After Surgery


Sound After Vestibular Schwannoma Surgery
40" x 30" Oil on Canvas. 2021.

Medical procedures have been a part of Eli’s life for his entire 14 years. When he was a baby, E was diagnosed with a rare eye condition, in which his retina detached at 12 months, leaving him ultimately blind in his left eye. His right eye has a small cataract that continues to be monitored. At 5, Eli was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), after a skin biopsy. Very young for a person, especially with a spontaneous case, to be diagnosed. This is when more procedures came about.

When Eli was 9 he had a C-5 tumor removed that was pressing on his spinal cord, and another at T-5 at age 11. MRI’s, audio exams, eye exams and numerous specialist visits across the country have been a common part of life. At age 13 when Eli’s hearing began to show decline and his right Vestibular Schwannoma (tumors on his auditory nerves which control hearing and balance) began to grow, he had cranial surgery in an attempt to preserve hearing. The family was unsure if Eli would wake up with any hearing at all in that ear, but thankfully, his hearing has remained stable after surgery.

Although the family is never free from appointments, change or worry, Eli is an amazingly well adjusted and resilient teen boy, who loves friends, skating, bike stunts, and to wear his earbuds, and thankfully, is still able to listen to music through both.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Case Study # 112 - Jacob on a Photo Shoot

"Jacob on a Photo Shoot" 2023. Oil on Canvas. 30" x 24"

Jacob was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 as a baby. Having this disease has been difficult for him at times, but it also had made him who he is today. Jacob went through a number of clinical trails as a child to try to reduce the size of one of his tumors. He had to spend a lot of time at the National Institute of Health (NIH) where he had to get a variety of different tests done every 3 months for a few years to monitor the tumor growths. As he got older none of the clinical trails he had participated in worked, so now he just gets checked up on once or twice a year to make sure there has been no growth or any additional tumors that have shown up.

Prep Sketch for "Jacob on a Photo Shoot"
Jacob lives a pretty normal life where he lives with his girl friend and his dog. He works a 9-5 job and does photography on the side in hopes to pursue photography full time one day. Jacob deals with pain occasionally, but does not let it affect his day to day life. He has always lived by the motto’s “Survive and Advance” and “Built Different.” Jacob helps raise NF awareness around the Kansas City area by participating in the Shine a Light Walks with all the proceeds going to help the Children's Tumor Foundation.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Case Study #111 - Odessa Enjoying Nature


"Odessa Enjoying Nature" 30" x 24" Oil on Canvas

Odessa Black had big blue eyes, long eyelashes, strawberry blonde hair and a smile that would light up a room. She was a master at playing UNO, loved watching women’s soccer games and telling jokes. Odessa always had an affinity for babies and children and especially loved rainbows, butterflies, and koalas. Odessa was sassy, quick witted and had an impeccable memory. She loved to tease her family and friends and was never afraid to share her opinion. She had a pure soul, was very loving, and cared so deeply. She would make a lasting impression on everyone she met. People would meet her and always remember her, she was truly unforgettable.

Odessa was having learning difficulties in 1st grade. After many medical tests, she was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus. She had a shunt placed in her brain to relieve the excess fluid. Then at a routine eye exam, lisch nodules in the iris of her eyes and a few café-au-lait spots were found which led to Odessa’s Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1) diagnosis. Until this point, we had never heard of NF and Odessa was the only person in our family to have NF. Our life as a family would never be the same.

Prep sketch--might redo her expression

From age 6 until age 14, Odessa didn’t have many NF related problems. Then at a routine MRI, a tumor was found on her lower lumbar spine. After three surgeries, the tumor was completely removed along with her right L4 nerve root. Not long after, she started having neck pain and another MRI revealed tumors in her neck, specifically two that were growing like barbells pinching her spinal cord at C2-C3. After three major surgeries to remove them, they kept growing back.

When Odessa was 21, she had a MPNST (Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor) in the sciatic nerve in her left leg. Removing that high grade cancerous tumor resulted in no function below her knee and her foot. Thankfully it was fully removed and she did not require any further treatment. Odessa was a rare MPNST survivor! Odessa was determined to live her life as best she could. She continued to walk, although with great difficulty, for four more years.

Odessa loved nature. As a child through her young adulthood, she enjoyed experiencing life around her. From finding box turtles and baby bunnies in our yard, to capturing caterpillars and discovering what kind of butterflies they turned into. She had two dogs in her life, first a golden retriever named Leeloo and lastly a golden doodle named Milla. They would sleep on her bed and keep her company through her many surgical recoveries. When she could, we traveled to zoos and arboretums to experience the butterfly enclosures and she loved feeding birds at aviaries. Some of her biggest smiles happened when she was covered in butterflies or having birds perched on her arms.

She had an affinity for snow, and would ask her “Grandma Angel” for a lot of snow whenever it was in the forecast and smiled ear to ear while we complained of having to shovel it off the driveway. Odessa loved to play snow-ball fetch with Leeloo until her nose was bright red from the cold.

Over the years, Odessa had well over 100 MRIs and 27 surgeries. With each surgery there was significant nerve damage which resulted in loss of sensation and function in her body. She participated in a number of clinical trials with the hope of slowing the growth of the tumors. One drug actually made her tumors shrink and she regained a little function but she did not stay on it due to the study ending and the severe side effects. Unfortunately, all her improvement was lost.

The result of all the surgeries and the continual growth of the tumors on her spine left Odessa without the ability to walk, move her arms, or use her hands to any large degree for the last several years of her life. Even with the adversities brought on by NF over the years, Odessa was a happy person and she was able to adapt. She had been fully functioning, graduated from high school, had a part-time job, driver’s license and was fiercely independent. She then became totally dependent because of the NF. It was heartbreaking to know that no matter how hard we tried, we could not fix her or make her well.

It got to the point where Odessa could only move one finger which was just enough to scroll through Facebook. It was her window to the outside world and to keep up with the people she knew. As the tumors continued to grow, Odessa got weaker. She had trouble breathing and eventually her body simply wore out. She was truly a NF warrior and she could no longer fight the battle.

She was a force to be reckoned with, uniquely her own, and truly unforgettable. We all miss her greatly. We love you, with all our heart, to the moon and back, our rainbow girl.