At the age of 60, Chen Lie suffered a hemorrhagic stroke which arrived “without my invitation or permission.” But the temporary paralysis of her entire right side gave her an opportunity to blossom on her left side.
Without invitation or expectation, a startling new skill would change her life.
As part of her recovery she had to re-learn how to do everything—from brushing her teeth to using a fork or pen—with her left hand, resulting in much frustration.
One day in a fit of boredom, and for the first time in her life, she picked up one of her grandchild’s paint brushes and just started putting color on the canvass. Happiness dawned on Chen as she suddenly could paint lovely natural scenery, despite having never painted or practiced a day in her life.
“I never picked up the paint brush before,” Chen told Good News Network. “I had nothing else to do so I just picked up the paint brush, and I just tried to put the color on the paper.”
The brush stroke
After her 2017 stroke, Chen completed in-patient therapy in Texas before moving to New York to enroll in an experimental robotic-assisted therapy program at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research on Long Island in late 2018.
The robotic arm essentially allowed Chen to complete far more repetitions in physical therapy then would be possible without it, allowing her to regain movement faster.
“Every time we recovered something [during rehab] we would tell them the good news,” Chen said. “They thought it was a wonder I could do something like painting.”
Chen—whose favorite painters include America’s beloved Bob Ross—has completed a whopping 500 paintings to date. During the month of May, which is National Stroke Awareness Month, she is painting one every day and posting a picture of it on her professional artist/advocacy Facebook page, Stroke of Hope, to help raise awareness.
“Actually, at the beginning I just put the colors on the canvass and then the more and more I did it, I read about how to paint, I read about color; it’s a lot of research for me to do,” says Chen, who considers it something like an occupation at this point.
“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, so besides the hand painting, the brain keeps thinking; that’s good for stroke [victims] to not let the brain rest; keep thinking; keep searching for the knowledge.”
A stroke of hope
The influence of Bob Ross is there to see in a professional video her family made telling her story, while she uses “the ole’ fan brush,” as the gentle man himself used to say, to effortlessly paint evergreen trees covered in snow.
The first post she made on Facebook was of an image of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico City, which she described as “top of my travel list.”
“I’ve never seen her paint,” says Chen’s daughter Liana. “Growing up she was always busy working, I never even saw her have a minute to do any of her hobbies. And now after the stroke it’s nice to see her doing something she loves.”
“It’s like a job for her! She’ll sit early in the morning, five days a week, the dedication is that real and that strong that she’ll sit in the morning, take a [lunch] break, rest a little bit, and go back into it,” she told GNN.
Stroke Awareness Oregon had contacted the family to see if it were possible to include in an auction some of her paintings to raise money for awareness and rapid response programs for stroke victims in the state.
“It goes to a good cause, which is what mom’s dream really is with the Stroke of Hope, really putting the word out there that it’s not over once you have the stroke.” said Liana.
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