A Stray Bullet Paralyzed Her, But Couldn't Stop Her From Painting

In 1997, then 20-year-old Mariam Paré was driving with a friend near Richmond, Virginia. While stopped at a stop sign, Paré looked over to see a group of people gathered on a corner in the rain.  As she started to drive away, someone fired a gun.

"I heard the popping of the gun, and I saw the glass flying and it all happened really fast," said Paré. "It was just noise and then I couldn't move.  I didn't know I'd been shot.  I just felt a kind of bolt of electricity behind me and a flash of heat."

The bullet had struck her spinal cord, leaving her a quadriplegic.

At the time of the shooting, Paré was a promising and gifted young painter. She feared that she would never paint again. After three months in the hospital, she transferred to a rehabilitation institute in Chicago. While there, an occupational therapist suggested she try to write her name while holding the pen in her mouth. With that newfound ability came the spark of inspiration.

"I was like, oh, wow I could apply this to painting," Paré said. "Maybe I could draw, or maybe it might be fun to paint while I'm in here and have all this time. That's when I kind of got excited and decided to explore what I could do again."

She has since devoted her life not only to painting, but to becoming a tireless advocate for those who've suffered spinal cord injuries: A member of the Associate Board at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, a seven-year member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, and STEAM Studios, devoted to providing materials and space to emerging artists in Chicago.

Seventeen years later, with mouthpainting now "second nature," Paré continues to work on her art and to pursue a career as an artist. This month, she's featured in two shows. And any day now, she expects to take a job that will pay her enough to paint.

Police never made an arrest in the shooting.

Here is some of the incredible work Paré has produced:


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