06/10/07 — Brain injury led woman to painting

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Brain injury led woman to painting

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 10, 2007 2:00 AM

Rudine Aycock had never been an artist.

In fact, in high school, when her teachers asked for someone to help with bulletin boards, she would sink down and hide, hoping not to be picked.

Nine years later, after a bicycle accident that injured her brain, she sits looking at an easel.

All of a sudden, she's an artist.

"God reached down and gave me the talent to paint," Ms. Aycock said.

But that is not her only miracle. Doctors tell her she is lucky to be alive.

It all started the day she flew over the handle bars of her bicycle at the bottom of the hill near her Nahunta home. A helicopter rushed her to the Duke Medical Center in Chapel Hill for emergency brain surgery. She was put on life support, and doctors told her family they didn't think she would survive. If she did, they said, she would be a vegetable.

Ms. Aycock pulled through at Duke, and the doctors transferred her to the rehabilitation unit at Wake Medical Center.

There, she did more than just get back on her feet. She catapulted back -- much to her doctors' surprise.

"They said I would be there up to two years," Ms. Aycock said. "I was out in three weeks. I was blowing their minds. Their eyes would get big, and their mouths would fly open. I thought, 'Oh no. I must be doing terrible.' It was the reverse."

But recovery was not going to be without struggle.

Her brain functions as well as it ever did, but the injury took its toll in other ways. She suffers headaches that send her to bed half a day at a time. Also, her energy bottoms out when she least expects it.

"When I got home, I thought everything would be just great. Mom and Dad took care of me. I lived a short distance from them. I insisted on going home. I walked to the mail box one day, and my energy gave out on me. I had to crawl back to the house."

Her new disability forced Ms. Aycock to retire from the work she loved as a supervisor for the fraud unit at the Wayne County Department of Social Services and as a part-time special deputy for the sheriff's office.

Ms. Aycock said she missed working and the people she met each day. And they missed her, too. Her former colleagues at the sheriff's office told her even the people she arrested were calling to see how she was doing.

That made her feel even worse.

"I was extremely depressed over losing the job," she said.

Then, one day, she told her friend, Kenneth Sasser, she had an urge to try a new talent.

"I think I can paint," she said she told him.

Ms. Aycock bought an easel and canvas and started work.

And now, five years later, she has had work appear in local galleries -- and the White House.

Her picture of Jesus pulling a sheep out of thorns hangs in President George W. Bush's office.

Before the accident, Ms. Aycock said she could not "draw one earthly thing."

Her newly discovered talent is nothing short of a miracle, she said.

What happened to Ms. Aycock is very believable, said Doug Harrison, director of Growth and Development at Re Nu Life assisted living center for traumatic brain injury victims on Forest Hill Drive.

The brain is constantly trying to heal itself and may have connected something that was not connected before, he said.

"The most heartwarming thought is that the brain rewired itself and gave her the ability. But you never can say definitively, because the brain is so complex," he said. "It is very possible the brain healed itself in a new way that the ability was uncovered."

Ms. Aycock said she is just glad that her tragedy has turned into a viable new hobby.

She said she knew she had achieved something when the White House first called to ask for the painting. In order to get to it through, she had to place a value on it. Since it was a gift, she asked the experts there to place a monetary value on it.

"They valued it at $2,500 and gave it to the president," she said.

She's not hiding when there is a call for an artist anymore.