The Hideaway TimesSunday, April 8, 2001
Woman creates Easter Seal with her mouth stick
A car crash turned Patti Butterbrodt's world upside down 12 years ago this month.
Then 18, she and three friends were returning from Daytona Beach, when the driver lost control of the car, which flipped when it fishtailed. The impact thrust Butterbrodt's head and shoulders through the rear vent window, paralyzing her.
It took some time, but Butterbrodt bounced back and developed a new lifestyle. She has mastered painting and created a design being distributed this season by Easter Seals. The elegant white Easter lily is tinged with pink edges and a whisper of blue in the center of the bloom. It was selected in competition with other entries. Judges had no idea the artist was paralyzed.
Butterbrodt is in a wheelchair and can use her shoulders a little bit, but not her hands or legs.
Butterbrodt has learned to paint with a mouth stick. She maneuvers herself in her wheelchair by nudging the controls with her right wrist. Once in position at her work station, she grabs the stick with her mouth, and she's in business.
She made colorful Christmas cards last fall and sold them at a booth during Flamingo Follies, the November sidewalk sale on Flagler Avenue.
She also creates other paintings that she displays in her studio.
It took Butterbrodt about five sessions to paint the flower for the Easter Seals competition.
"I was one of six artists," she said. "They were voted on by a panel of people who didn't know anything about the artists."
Butterbrodt entered two drawings, but Easter Seals sent the other one back to her.
"It will be hanging in Ta Da Gallery, 113 Flagler Ave., framed and for sale," said the artist. Both were done in watercolor, which Butterbrodt prefers.
"I've done one painting with acrylic, but I favor watercolor because of the way I use my mouth stick," she said. "I work with water and have more control with watercolor."
Besides painting with it, the artist uses the mouth stick to operate her computer, dial the telephone, use the remote control for the TV and to read her books.
When she reads, the book is propped up in front of her. The mouth stick has what appears to be a rubber eraser on the end. Butterbrodt simply turns the page by applying the "eraser."
Butterbrodt said she used to have very nice penmanship and she became frustrated with her signature.
"I exercised to make it better. I tried to draw something and it was shaky," she said. "At the time I was really excited. I drew Goofy and I already had drawn Roger Rabbit."
She keeps the early drawings to remind her how far she has come with her art work.
Butterbrodt was determined to do better, so she looked in the newspaper for an art teacher. She found Carolyn Bell and Donna Ryan.
"Donna was able to give me hints and tricks and ideas," she said with a smile. I'd like to take advantage of classes offered in the community, but it's too hard to get me there," she said. "I have a great table here at home and I'm all set. I can do it all myself. I have the best of both worlds."
Her wheelchair has a special addition, devised for Butterbrodt by a neighbor. She is constantly thirsty, so Tom Draus created a tank to anchor on the back of her wheelchair. A tube is connected to it so Butterbrodt can drink indepen dently whenever she needs to.
Her injuries tugged on the community's hearts, along with their purse strings, and local people donated enough money to buy her a specially equipped van to make it easier to take her places with her wheelchair.
"I'm so proud of the community and the way they have embraced me so much. I'm very proud of New Smyrna Beach," she said in praise of her hometown.
Butterbrodt's father died of spinal meningitis when she was 5, but she and her mother, Chela, share the home they modified to make it easier for Butterbrodt to maneuver her wheelchair inside and out.
They widened doorways and added ramps so she can go outside to the van or by the pool in the shady backyard.
She graduated from New Smyrna Beach High School in June 1989 and hopes to enroll in online courses from Daytona Beach Community College.
Her long-range goals include counseling others with similar dis abilities. "I always think it's important to help other people in similar circumstances if you're able to use yourself as an example. You never know who it will touch," Butterbrodt said.
Technically, she is homebound and is entitled to receive home health care through Medicare, but Butterbrodt said the requirements are vague. She hopes they can be modified so she could tell stories to youngsters as she used to do. However, she does not want to jeopardize her position and lose the help she needs from Medicare.
David Jayne, a man Butterbrodt corresponds with online, has formed a coalition which is at tempting to abolish the homebound rule for those who are severely chronically ill with ongoing need for nursing and personal care. Jayne is disabled with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig Disease.
In the meantime, Butterbrodt enjoys her family, es pecially her mother and her sister, Joanne, and brother, Jack. Between them, they provide five nephews and nieces whom Butterbrodt enjoys immensely.
"They have lived their whole life seeing me paralyzed," she said of the youngsters. "I talk with them and play games with them. It's fun being a referee."
Butterbrodt, who will celebrate her 30th birthday Tuesday, believes her life is full these days and enjoys what she can do.
"Everyone has their own problems to overcome. You just do it, because there's no other way," said the artist-philosopher from her wheelchair, mouth stick at the ready.