Let me tell you a bit about myself. In 1959, I woke up, the day after my third birthday, burning with fever of 105, completely paralyzed from the neck down. I remember distinctly, my mother trying to comfort me as I lay helpless in my bed. Seeing that I was experiencing pain and agony, mother's first inclination was to get me to the hospital. My parents arrived at the hospital and after having been evaluated, the diagnosis was polio. I won't go into my entire life story, but will add that, in time, I was able to recover from total paralysis and walked with a limp the majority of my life, having one smaller, more delicate leg and endured many years of physical therapy along the way.
I have always been an artist. Since early childhood my creativity appeared in school plays and in murals as back drops in high school performances. I never thought about having a career in the arts, because back in the 60s and 70s, no one was pushing you to get out and make a living in the arts. Nine times out of ten, most women were taking secretarial or business courses if you weren't going to college. Just something to have under your belt for the future if you married and had children. So, as time progressed, I did get married, and my secretarial skills were flourishing. So, art took a back seat in my life and was basically just a hobby. A hobby that sat on the back burner for a long time.
In my early twenties I was lucky enough to land a job in the field of medical transcription. In my heart, I had always loved the medical field, of course having been around hospitals and doctors and going for treatments, therapy, and operations, it was a part of my life. So, medical transcription became my career. I absolutely loved it and I transcribed everything from operations, consultations, psychiatric evaluations and so on from numerous hospitals around the United the States, as well as working for two wonderful doctors in my area, privately.
Time marched on, marriage, a beautiful child, buying homes, setting up house and so on. I noticed by my late 30s that I was having difficulty walking distances, and I was becoming very, very tired to the point that I just had to sleep. No two ways about it. My parents sent me a newspaper article about something they were discovering as people aged and had polio for 20 years or more. And then, one evening on television, appeared Connie Chung, informing the nation about post polio syndrome. My first thoughts, "NO! This just can't be true." Then my next thoughts, were, "oh my goodness, this must be what's happening to me." I went for an evaluation at the Post Polio Clinic in Tampa and was told that I was in the very early stages of post polio syndrome and that they had no idea how quickly it would progress. I started to walk with a cane, which helped me and when I was tired, I would just have to sit down. In time, slowly the symptoms progressed and we dealt with this the best way we could. In the middle of an afternoon of shopping at the mall with my young son I realized, I wasn't going to be able to walk out of the mall. So I sat down on a bench, and I was depressed for about 10 minutes, and then I gave my son my driver's license and sent him to the mall office to get me a wheelchair, so I could get back outside to our van. And then, my supportive husband was more than happy to buy me an electric scooter, at the doctor's advice, for long distances, as walking with a cane would no longer suffice.
As time went on, in the midst of one of our moves, after having looked at 50 homes in a two week time period, I woke up one morning and could no longer stand on my left leg. Just like that, it was gone, burned out, and would no longer hold me up. After our move, visiting several doctors, undergoing more evaluations, I was admitted to a rehabilitation hospital for physical therapy, aqua therapy, brace making and use of a wheelchair. I was now 44 years old, and at this point, I became very depressed about the whole situation. I had to give up my career in the medical transcription field and retired at doctors orders. I had no idea which way to turn. I had taken some art classes years before, during a time when my mother was dying of cancer, and so, I turned to my oil painting. I painted, and I painted some more.
Shortly hereafter, while meeting a group of wheelchair dancers, at a small local exhibition I had been invited to participate in for ADA Day, I met a wonderful lady, who referred me to the Director of VSA Arts of Florida. VSA Florida provides programs that include cultural access, services for adult artists with disabilities, outreach and exhibitions, professional development, community programs, and artists in residence. In time, I had enough courage to contact the Director of VSA, Marian Winters, and she helped me to start exhibiting my art in local galleries and museums throughout the state of Florida.
In time, I realized that I still had a contribution to make to society, and that my art was appreciated by others, and I began to flourish happily. I was no longer feeling sad, depressed or worrying about being a burden. I had opportunities to work with students with disabilities in several schools in the Tampa Bay Area, which was very fulfilling for me. I have become very independent and am able to do so many things on my own. I now have my own website and am using several different mediums and artistic techniques that are feeding my creative drive. When one door closes, another opens, and I thank God for art and how it has healed my life. Please feel free to visit my website, Lora Duguay Fine Art.