Paralysed Israeli paints with his eyes
First his arms and legs stopped working, then his respiratory system. Now Rahamim Melamed-Cohen can hardly speak and sits motionless in a wheelchair except for the barely visible flicker of his eyes.
But thanks to technology and his own tenacity, the 70-year-old Israeli has harnessed the power of those tiny eye movements to write books, compose music, and now create pictures that have been made into a book and shown at a Jerusalem exhibition.
“Most people paint with their hands, some use their toes, others use their mouths - but I paint with my eyes,” Melamed-Cohen wrote in the forward to his recently published book “With a blink of an eye”.
Melamed-Cohen was diagnosed in 1994 with ALS, a rare and severe neuro-degenerative disease that gradually paralyses the entire body. The condition is fatal and there is no cure.
With a computer programme that allows him to use his eyes like a keyboard mouse, he creates ‘paintings’ - often surrealist, sometimes haunting and occasionally cartoon-like - by dragging motifis and colour around the screen.
The result is 33 pictures illustrating bible stories and verses from the Old Testament - from Adam and Eve to the Psalms. They are on show in an exhibition at the Jerusalem Theater.
“The final outcome proves how strong the human spirit is and that there is nothing to stand in the way of one’s will,” wrote Melamed-Cohen, an Orthodox Jew.
Unable to give interviews, Melamed-Cohen slowly used his eyes to tap out a welcome message on screen to a Reuters reporter who visited his home.
His daughter, Rachel Tzur, says her father taught himself to use the computer programme, made by U.S. company EyeTech Digital Systems, when he was still able to speak and move, but knew he faced paralysis.
Despite his acute condition, Melamed-Cohen - who breathes with an artificial respirator and is fed through a tube - likes to stay active, attending synagogue every week, family events and going to the theatre.
“I don’t think he would describe himself as ill. He feels he is a normal person who needs a bit of help,” Tzur said.
Each of Melamed-Cohen’s paintings shown at the exhibition feature an eye, in reference to his sole means of communication.
“The eye is the thing that didn’t stop working and it is the way he communicates with the world,” said Tzur. “He even smiles with his eyes.”
By Eli Berlzon
JERUSALEM (Reuters Life!)
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