Peace in Painting: Parkinson's patient finds creativity diminishes symptoms

Peace in Painting

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - A Slidell painter is recognized for his amazing art. But Ross Schillesci overcomes obstacles every time he picks up a brush. His garage-turned-studio is where the 81-year-old artist escapes from his own difficult reality.

"I didn't even know what Parkinson's was until I got it," he said.

Ross has Parkinson's disease. The same hands that create beautiful pictures can shake from the disease that causes a loss of brain cells and decreased motion.

"We noticed one hand started to tremor, not all the time. I was concerned, and so I went to a neurologist," said his wife, Loyce, while holding his trembling hand.

Dr. Georgia Lea is his neurologist.

"His problems have progressed over 20 years, which is to be expected. More tremors, more stiffness, more imbalance problems, problems walking and difficulty with dexterity."

The once-avid fisherman sold his boat because of his deteriorating health and increasing tremors. He looked for another hobby.

His wife bought him a paint set.

"It sat in the garage and sat there for six months. Then he opened the package and started painting," Loyce said.

He said it was difficult at first. His hands still fluttered. But as he got more comfortable, something miraculous happened.

"When he paints, it's amazing how he's mixing the paints and picks up the brush and no tremors at all," Loyce said.

Hands that shake because of Parkinson's Disease are quieted by creativity.

"I looked at the brush and I come down and see, it's not shaking at all," Ross said.

His hands steady when he thinks of holding a brush in his hand, or when he puts paint to canvas.

Dr. Lea explained why.

"When you're feeling really good, dopamine is released. It's what we call the reward chemical. For some people it's shopping, hunting or gambling. For Mr. Schillesci, it may be painting," she said.

Dopamine doesn't just make us feel good, it helps regulate the way we move.

In Parkinson's patients, those important dopamine neurons in the brain die. Speech and movement slow down. In Ross's case, there are tremors. But when he paints, that feel-good chemical kicks in.

"Symptoms could be better because he's squirting out just a little more dopamine because he's happy and comfortable and likes what he's doing," Dr. Lea said.

She saw the phenomenon in her patients when the Saints won the Super Bowl.

"All my patients thought they were cured for 20 minutes or an hour because the surge of dopamine cured all of their physical symptoms. Not long lasting, because you have to come down from that high at some point. It was a good high," she said.

Ross says his hobby is fun, and it has turned into countless works of art.

"When my husband started painting, he started painting trees, and he looks at trees in a different way than I would see a tree," Loyce said.

Ross says trees have their own personalities, and if you're shaking, no one knows.

"I don't have any more walls," Loyce said. "I had to go into the bathroom to use what space I had. He joined the Slidell Art League, and every meeting he'd come back once a month with first place."

"What I do is I take pictures of different scenes from my camera, and if there's something I like I'll have it reproduced and come back and look at it. I'll take a little something from one and something from the other," Ross said.

He said he will spend six or eight hours at a time in the garage. He'll continue on this natural high until Parkinson's says he can't anymore.

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