A Michigan native used his life-threatening illness as an inspiration for his ArtPrize piece. (Oct. 1, 2015)
April 6, 2015
Article from the Cadillac News, February 23, 2013
All rights to images and article belong to the Cadillac News
He is a loving husband. He is the owner and father to two dogs. He is a graphic artist. Although he lives in Portland, Oregon, he and his wife Cindy love to come to Michigan and in particular, Cadillac. He originally hails from the Lansing area, but his ties to Cadillac are his family. His sister Heidi Hall and father John both live here.
It was a cold and snowy visit around Valentine’s Day weekend that brought Eric and Cindy back to Cadillac and northern Michigan for a visit. During this visit, however, Eric brought something that was not going to make the return trip out west. He brought some art.
The art he brought is related to another thing Eric is. He is a Neurosarcoidosis patient. It’s likely you probably have never heard of that. Neurosarcoidosis is a manifestation of sarcoidosis in the nervous system. Sarcoidosis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically occurs in adults between 20 and 40 years of age and primarily affects the lungs, but can also impact almost every other organ and system in the body.
Neurosarcoidosis is characterized by inflammation and abnormal cell deposits in any part of the nervous system — the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves.
Eric hadn’t heard of it either and the road to finding out that he had the disease was a long one.
In the beginning of 2013, Eric started having pains across his stomach.
It was localized and he compared it to having someone take a fork and rake it across his stomach. At first he thought he had pulled a muscle. He thought it would go away.
His wife started to fear that he was having second thoughts about their relationship as he was not as loving toward her as he had been. Simply put, hugging hurt and Eric didn’t want be in pain. After he came clean about his pain, his wife Cindy wanted to find out what was going on almost as much as Eric did.
“It (the stomach pain) is not painful. It kind of hurts. Certain movements make it hurt more, but overall it is annoying,” Eric said. “We (Eric and Cindy) had it checked out but couldn’t figure out what it was.”
Since the pain wasn’t going away doctors decided to run tests. Eventually, it was decided that an MRI was needed because it was believed whatever was happening was nerve related.
At this same point, Eric started having trouble walking. He would trip over things. He then would drop stuff and have bouts of uncontrolled shaking. This was only a few weeks after the pain in the stomach started.
It never got better and worsened. Eventually, he started having trouble speaking.
When the neurologist looked at his MRI, three small “hot spots” showed up along his spinal cord. Eric said they couldn’t figure out how three small areas could be causing so much trouble.
They got their answer.
The three “hot spots” as Eric called them were actually the only areas of his spine that were working correctly. His doctors told him it was a miracle that he was even standing.
Because symptoms would come and go, it was difficult to diagnose but eventually doctors concluded he had Neurosarcoidosis.
“It is a disease that usually attacks the lungs. You get granules in your lungs and it eventually takes you out,” he said. “Remember the comedian Bernie Mac? He died from (sarcoidosis). Mine isn’t in my lungs. It is in my spine and it messes everything up.”
Eric said the doctors figured out that everything stemmed from his immune system. He compared his immune system to a bully who started attacking his spinal cord for no good reason. In order for things to improve, his immune system needed to basically be removed.
That in itself caused other problems.
“I go from having the sniffles to pneumonia in about four hours. They either ship me off to the hospital immediately or they give me antibiotics,” he said.
Although the road to diagnosis was a long one, Eric said once doctors figured out what he had, he started to see results almost immediately. He is officially in remission and things are as good as they can be, but his life is forever changed and challenges remain.
To help with his treatment, Eric also sees a therapist. The first thing they tried to discuss was the fact that Eric had changed. He was never going to be the same person he was before 2013. Even if he remained healthy, the Neurosarcoidosis was part of him.
“You are going to have more gray hair. You will put on a couple pounds. You are not going to be the same as you were in 2008 or 2012,” Eric said his therapist told him. “I was like, ‘alright that is a good point.’ You have this. It isn’t going away and you might as well deal with this.”
That is when he got the idea to try to make art.
He had hundreds of medical images from MRIs, CT scans, Ultrasounds and x-rays. With his background in graphic design and knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, Eric started using the images to make pictures.
He started to do them for fun. He started to do them for therapeutic reasons. Then he started getting positive feedback. Instead of covering up the fact that he had the illness he was showing it to everyone to see. It was just as much a part of him now as anything else.
“I’m not trying to hide it. It is part of you and it is no big deal,” he said. “I don’t hide behind it. I embrace it. We all have things that change us. We should allow that to happen instead of hiding it. It took me a long time to come around to that.”
Before his recent trip in February, Sheryl Blanchard asked if he could bring some of his artwork so she could hang them in her business, West End Coffee and Tea. Eric’s dad John works as a barista at the Cadillac West coffee shop and Blanchard had heard of the trials and triumphs of his story. Several pieces now hang in the business as well as several synopsis that tell Eric’s story.
Eric now hopes that his artwork will give hope to people who may be dealing with similar issues or illnesses. He said he may also try to use his skills to make art for others who are dealing with an illness and have similar medical images.
“Like my dad says, ‘You are looking from the right side of the grass. You are looking down on it rather than looking up,’” Eric said smiling.
To see more of Eric’s work and story, log on to www.erichudson.com and his work can be seen at West End Coffee and Tea, 2800 Sunnyside Dr, Suite 132 in Cadillac West.