One of the purposes a community newspaper is to tie together the stories and experiences of the public. As a reporter, I try to do that each week in my feature stories and personality profiles. But it’s nice when coincidence, and proactive readers, work to make my job a little easier.
A few weeks ago, a woman named Lisa Zweigle sent me an email. She had a compelling personal story and wondered if it might make for an interesting article. Considering the unusual nature of her tale – after an enormous tumor was removed from her brain, she discovered a talent for art that she never knew she had — I made plans to interview her as soon as possible.
As it turned out, Zweigle’s story was even more surprising than I’d thought. She told me that, for her whole life, she’d had a feeling that something was wrong with her body that kept her from reaching her full potential. Headaches and an inability to focus led to poor grades in school, but Zweigle always felt she had an interior intelligence that her pains left her unable to express.
After two seizures, doctors examined her brain and found a tumor the size of a lemon. A risky surgery was successful, but her recovery period lasted much longer than she’d expected.
Eventually, she found art. And that new skill – Zweigle could suddenly draw and paint at a professional level – opened up a whole new course for her life. She quit her job last fall to become a full-time portrait artist, and she’s currently working on commission out of her Gig Harbor home.
That story is rather remarkable and makes you wonder all kinds of things about the human brain, which still contains its share of mysteries.
But apparently, Zweigle wasn’t the only Gig Harbor resident for whom a brain tumor had led to a new career as an artist.
The day Zweigle’s story was published, I received a call from Martha Reisdorf, a Gateway reader and member of the Gig Harbor Arts Commission. Reisdorf wanted Zweigle’s contact information so the two could chat about their shared experience.
Reisdorf’s tumor was removed in 1990, and the surgery severed nerve endings that left her without much of her balance, depth perception or range of motion.
As part of her recovery, Reisdorf took an art class. And lo and behold, the unusual motions that left her restricted in most aspects of her life gave her a unique and creative abstract style of painting.
The privilege of being a reporter is that I get invited into the homes of people like Zweigle and Reisdorf, to sit on their couches and hear the intimate details of their health issues and paths to recovery. But to be part of a connection between two people with such incredible, similar experiences – a connection that they might never have known about if not for the paper – is truly special.
It’s been a summer of change so far at the Gateway, and I will soon become the latest member of our staff to depart for another opportunity. In August, I’ll start as an AmeriCorps member in Austin, Texas, and I’ll pursue a lifelong dream of national service. I’ll try not to die from heat exhaustion.
But, like any reporter who moves away from journalism, it’s moments like the connection between Zweigle and Reisdorf that I’ll miss most. You like to think your stories make an impact on readers’ lives and deepen their sense of connection with their community. When you see it happen, though, and in such an unusual manner, it’s immensely rewarding.
Thank you, to Zweigle and Reisdorf, and Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula, for providing me with a lot of those moments during my time at the Gateway. And if there are any more of you out there with a good recovery-from-brain-surgery story, please let me know.Reporter Will Livesley-O’Neill can be reached at 253-358-4152, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_will.