Onix Flores has lived with a rare neuromuscular disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease for most of her life. Now living on a ventilator, Onix has chosen to share her courageous story through the art of mouth painting.
“I want to share what life has given me, so I can encourage people like me to follow their passions,” she says.
Today, Onix is an award-winning mouth painter, world traveler, college graduate, mentor to orphaned young women in Honduras, her native country, and most important, a loving wife to her husband of almost 20 years.
Determined to Succeed
After Onix was placed on a ventilator, she spent the next seven years of her life in a nursing home. There, she worked with a respiratory care practitioner to overcome many new obstacles, including learning how to speak. Onix practiced using a speaking valve every day and kept her progress a secret from her husband until she surprised him during one of his visits. “Hi, baby,” she said.
Onix recalls how she felt after speaking her first words to her husband: “My goodness, I was happy, happy, happy.”
After she mastered speech, she began working on leaving her room. At first, her outings were short—visiting the facility’s garden, her friends, and even church—until she was comfortable enough to visit her husband at their home on the weekends.
“It was my paradise,” she says about leaving her room at the facility.
Developing the Skill of Mouth Painting
As Onix grew stronger and gained more freedom, she looked for other ways to be fulfilled.
One of Onix’s therapists introduced her to the idea of mouth painting. At first, Onix was resistant. Her therapist continued to encourage her until she picked up a paint brush.
Onix painted birds, flowers and landscapes from her memories of travelling around the world during her younger days. She spent most of her days developing her talent and learning new skills and techniques.
“I wanted to paint 24 hours a day. It was challenging and I wanted as much practice as I could get,” says Onix. Mouth painting gave her the confidence she needed to transition home.
Regaining Independence at Home
John Cahill, RRT, met Onix five years ago when he agreed to transition her home as one of Independence Plus’ first Respiratory Home Medical Equipment patients. After a few successful vent trials and necessary training for Onix’s husband and secondary caregiver, she was ready to go home.
“I was happy, so happy when John told me I was going home,” Onix says. Onix has lived successfully at home for the last five years without any hospitalizations.
Award-Winning Mouth Painter
Onix is a proud member of the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, a for-profit association owned by disabled artists to help them meet their financial needs. She showcases her work at several art festivals and recently won 1st place in the Unique Expressions Artist category at the Buffalo Grove Invitational Fine Art Festival.