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Unique NC Partnership Breathes Life and Art into Illness

March 14, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Every year, thousands of people with multiple sclerosis struggle with disabilities as their disease progresses. MS can rob them of life and livelihood, but a partnership between the National MS Society Mid-Atlantic Chapter and the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services is changing that, one patient at a time.

The MS Technology Collaborative provides equipment to improve the quality of life for people like Tom Hartman, who has lived with MS for more than 20 years and became quadriplegic as it progressed. The disease had apparently ended his career as an artist, but now, a hands-free device and new software are making it possible for him to create art again.

"It brought into my life something I've never, never really expected to be able to do again, for sure. It just brought back a whole new life to me."

Hartman now creates artwork though a software program called ArtRage. It helps him draw and paint pictures that look like oil paintings, which he displays on his website.

Hartman says you can't put a price on the type of help he's been given. However, Linda Gallehugh, vice president of chapter programs for the National MS Society Mid-Atlantic Chapter, says the actual high cost of helping patients with technology prohibits her organization from helping as many as they'd like.

"If we had the resources we could help a lot of people, but it takes a lot of resources to help even one, to make a difference in their quality of life."

Hartman's work caught the attention of the MS Society, which now commissions him to provide artwork for their events. His wife Lois says his new career offers him healing motivation.

"Every morning when he wakes up, he has new possibilities. Since he can paint for a purpose now, it's just even more wonderful."

Learn more about Tom Hartman's work at www.hartmanart.com

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC