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Cosette’s Way

With exquisite control and a delicate touch, Cosette Ruh applies a dab of paint to her brush and then to the canvas before her. A detailed outline of a floral still life is the subject of Cosette’s latest piece, a rendering of a photo the artist took in the gardens across the street from the Good Shepherd Home-Raker Center where Cosette lives.

Nearby, Anne Landis, a volunteer with the resident art group, mixes several paints on a palette, trying to get just the right shade for the vivid flower that commands the picture. “It’s opera pink,” Ann says to another volunteer. “It’s not pink enough. It’s too purple. It needs to be shocking.”

What makes Cosette’s art so remarkable is not just that it’s good, but that she paints holding a paintbrush clenched between her teeth. Unable to use her hands after surgery to remove a brain tumor when she was 12 years old left her paralyzed, Cosette was determined to pursue her lifelong passion for creating art. With help from the volunteers, Cosette is doing just that.

“I’ve always loved art and my dad is sort of a self-taught artist too,” says the perky 22-year-old whose teal-tinted hair reflects a carefree spirit. “At home he could do any type of art, ceramics, painting, drawing. He always had projects for us to do, like painting on canvas.”

Cosette was born with a benign tumor on the base of her brain stem. The tumor was not detected until she was 18 months old, she says. The surgery, which removed 40 percent of the tumor, paralyzed Cosette. She needed a ventilator and feeding tube. Doctors gave little hope of Cosette ever recovering, but her mother wasn’t giving up, especially after Cosette moved a toe. Physical and occupational therapy started to yield dramatic improvement. “I wasn’t paralyzed any more,” says Cosette.“I needed a walker, but I could do everything myself.”

After a second surgery, Cosette was paralyzed again. Although she made some recovery, her diaphragm remains partially paralyzed. “This time I didn’t regain as much,” she says, “and I still have a trach and ventilator.”

Cosette’s passion for art never waned. In high school she explored digital photography with help from friends who would angle the camera at her direction. She did crafts too: a mandala on a silk plate and a graffiti project using construction paper and words graphically incorporated to communicate a message about the dangers of plastics pollution to sea life.

Cosette came to live at Good Shepherd in May 2019. She soon joined the resident art group and completed her first painting, a sea turtle. “I love turtles,” she says. The idea to paint with her mouth was floated at another facility where Cosette lived prior to coming to Good Shepherd. With a little creativity, the logistics were worked out making it possible for Cosette to paint. “I was excited,” she says. “It went better than I thought and it’s gotten easier.”

Karen Geller, another resident in the art group, admires Cosette’s initiative. “She didn’t give up on art,” says Karen, “she just continued doing what she loves so much. She said, ‘I’ll find a way.’ She not only does it, she does it with aplomb. Her paintings with her mouth are better than most people can do with their hands.”

Life at Good Shepherd for Cosette has blossomed, much like the colorful floral painting she is now working on. She participates in a variety of resident activities: choir, the drama group, gardening, cooking, gaming, and the book club. She loves shopping and dining out, and does both as much as possible.

“I have a lot more freedom and independence, and I’m more hopeful,” she says.

Cosette is not only happier, she is also improving physically. “I’m working on getting everything stronger,” she says. “I feel like I’m going somewhere, getting better. I’m not just going to be like I am forever.”

You can help Good Shepherd’s long-term care residents like Cosette enjoy lives of greater independence. Please make a gift today at SweetCharityOnline.org. Thank you.