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Painter with Parkinson's still 'mind surfs'

Wednesday November 17, 2010

KVAL.com - Russell Brown thought he'd surf the Hawaiian shores of Honolua Bay his whole life.

“We used to sit right on the rocks there,” Brown said, pointing to his painting in progress.

“I remember days, certain days, where there was only a couple of us out," the 8-year resident of Veneta said, "and it'd be perfect just like that.”

Never was that dream more shattering then 20 years ago, when Parkinson's disease started robbing him control of his body movement.

His neurologist Dr. Sara Batya of Oregon Neurology Associates calls Parkinson's a disease that will continue to steal Brown's life away.

“We have ways of treating the symptoms,” said Batya. “But not ways of preventing or delaying the disease itself.”

For people with Parkinson's, neuro-transmitting cells called Dopamine producers start to deteriorate. It's a neurodegenerative disease his neurologist says there's no cure for.

“One of the things that you lose in Parkinson's disease is your ability to do fine motor control,” said Batya. “So handwriting is very frequently affected.”

Several years ago, Brown couldn't write with his right hand at all, and underwent a series of serious brain surgeries to help control the symptoms.

In the past 10 years, Brown has received two brain surgeries, one to burn legions killing areas of the brain to better control body movement and a second surgery installing a Deep Brain Stimulator. The stimulator sends electrical pulses through a transmitting wire between the brain and a chest.

It’s a journey that’s deteriorated more than just body movement, but his hope.

“I was getting tired of battling it. Twenty years of fighting it,” said Brown emotionally. “Quite often I'd think that I should give up and just call it quits.”

Dr. Batya believes that even after two surgeries the progressive destruction to Brown’s central nervous system makes his movement across the canvas a unique one.

But a year and a half ago Brown found a way to fill the void, painting the Hawaiian beaches the now Veneta resident longed to never leave behind.

“Being able to paint is re-energizing my body with the abilities that I've lost,” said Brown.

Now several times a week Brown gets a ride to the Applegate Art Gallery in downtown Veneta to oil paint memories of a better time in life.

“I still mind surf. It’s always going in my mind. I can remember rides that I had when I was a young kid.

”It was like I didn't miss a winter at all,” said Brown looking towards his paintings. “I was right there, I got to surf with them every day.”

His painting instructor, Bob Niems, said Brown's weakness is often his advantage.

“Most people try to get in too precise, too soon. He comes in, does his natural touch and it works out,” said Niems. “It saved his life. It really gives him something to look forward to.”

“I still have another 10 years in me at least," he said. "I got a lot more paintings I got to make for people.”