NCH is part of Endeavor Health

Learn more

News  ›  Neurosciences

Brush strokes help patient recover from stroke

May 14, 2021

Tina Primer with a selection of her paintings, which are displayed in the family lounge at the NCH Outpatient and Day Rehab Center in Rolling Meadows.

Following a stroke in 2016, Tina Primer found herself hospitalized for two weeks. Three months of inpatient rehabilitation followed, after which the Palatine resident returned to NCH for our Day Rehabilitation program, receiving occupational and physical therapy.

In those early days, she recalls being worried about all the things required to get through the day, but as time went on, she was faced with the all-too-real possibility that something that gave her great joy was in jeopardy: her ability to create works of art through painting. Tina – like 90 percent of the world’s population – is right-handed, so her stroke profoundly impacted her ability to use her right arm and hand.

“When I realized I couldn’t paint, it hit me like a wave of depression,” she says. But she didn’t stay in that mindset for long. Tina’s occupational and physical therapy team helped her see the possibility of re-discovering her skill in a new way – with her left (or non-dominant) hand.

“Their encouragement and loving nature got me ‘spiraling up,’” she said. “They helped me find this path, and – combined with my hard work – it all started to come together.”

She started this new journey by drawing, first creating what she refers to as “rudimentary, stick-figure teddy bears.” When she had drawn several of these, she offered them to Stephanie Chan Vo, Director of Guest Services, to share with patients who were staying at NCH for an extended time.

“By sharing her artwork,” says Stephanie, “she tells a story about overcoming challenges with those who could benefit from hearing it. Tina donated her artwork for our pediatric and adult patients, a kind gesture that provides patients with inspiration and a bright decoration for their hospital room.”

From teddy bears, Tina moved on to painting watercolor flowers, birds and ultimately other animals in acrylic paint. She describes the process as an “exploration of different styles.” But exploring took a lot of effort.

“It was hard,” she says. “It took time and practice to get to where I am today.” Tina says her paintings now are in a different style from what she did in the past, which led her to a new subject – pet portraits. “It’s not something I ever thought I would do, but I really enjoy it.”

Tina’s physical therapy team saw and appreciated the effort she was putting toward her artwork. Physical Therapist Lidia Kornacka says, “Tina believes in hope, and her hope makes her more motivated, stronger and more successful in all she does. She has become like family to our rehab team.” Beata Hilgier, Physical Therapy Assistant, agrees. “When she lost so much after the stroke, Tina was depressed,” Beata says. “But when she started to put her focus in learning to paint with her non-dominant hand, it gave her a much happier outlook.”

Tina says anyone experiencing their own challenges should seek out the things that give them joy. “I would tell others that whatever their passion is, try not to lose it. Painting makes me feel like my old self.” Sometimes it’s a struggle, a reminder of where Tina is in her recovery process. “But because I’m painting, it tells me where I can go. It gives me a purpose.”

Elsie Pollari, an NCH Occupational Therapist who worked with Tina, agrees with this approach. “Tina has come a long way in the past few years, starting with learning how to text with her left index finger to now being able to create beautiful and realistic paintings. Her progress in occupational therapy demonstrates the importance of tapping into each person’s passions to enable them to re-engage in life in a meaningful and fulfilling way.”

A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, Tina shares her artwork proudly. “When I think about getting my degree and where I am now, it consoles me. I feel like I’ve come full circle.” To learn more about the Day Rehabilitation Program, visit us on the web.

One of Tina Primer’s early works, created before she had a stroke in 2016.
Another painting Tina created prior to having a stroke in 2016.
Following the stroke, Tina began drawing and painting teddy bears, many of which were donated to NCH patients to cheer and inspire them.
Tina’s teddy bears provided a bright decoration for patient rooms.
Watercolor birds were the next step in Tina’s journey to regain her artistic outlet, all while using her left and non-dominant hand.
Flowers were another subject Tina painted while regaining her artistic ability.
Ultimately, Tina began to paint pet portraits.
Tina never expected to paint pet portraits, “but I really enjoy it,” she says.
She’s found a way to capture beloved pet’s personalities with her artwork.