Painting Becomes Surviving Stroke

Gerhard paints a vase at Abil House which is dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency and ensuring community re-integration for veterans and others living with brain injuries. Photo from the Abil House Facebook page.

Painting Becomes Surviving Stroke

By Betsy Judge

For 60 years Gerhard Endress tied his identity to his profession; he was a master at his craft of watchmaking.

Gerhard Endress and wife Gillian stand by their
dining room table which is loaded with samples of his work. Hard work, physical therapy, patience, perseverance and renewed faith eventually set him on a new path, and painting has given him a new outlook on post-stroke life.
TIR staff photo.

He started in a factory in Germany at 14. After moving to the U.S. and doing a stint in the Army, he returned to his trade settling in a town in Northwestern Louisiana. He moved and continued to hone his skills and six years ago he and wife Gillian, a personal trainer, moved to Tierra Verde to take advantage of year-round outdoor activities.

“By that time, I was working on pretty high grade watches, and I had some real good clients from all over,” says Gerhard who takes time to find the words. “They sent me their watches, so I opened up a shop in the house.” He was 73 and playing tennis and soccer with guys half his age. He also loved to work in the garden.

It all came to an abrupt end after six hours of tennis one day. Gerhard had a massive stroke while readying to watch the world cup.

“It was a miracle,” says Gillian about his survival. “I was in Tampa. He had invited a tennis friend over to see the world cup.” A first as far a Gillian remembers.

When Gerhard did not answer the phone or the door his friend looked in the back and found him unresponsive. Gillian was not scheduled to be back until late that night. “We can say it’s a God thing, because if he had not come over, he (Gerhard) wouldn’t be here.”

Gerhard paints a vase at Abil House which is dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency and ensuring community re-integration for veterans and others living with brain injuries. Photo from the Abil House Facebook page.

But the man who made a living with his hands and competed with guys half his age lost the functional use of his left arm and some of his left leg, He lived the next two months at BayCare followed by three months in The Allegro.

“It was terrible,” says Gerhard. “Suddenly I couldn’t do the work that I’m so used to.” “We are both very active and physical,” adds Gillian, “and then all of a sudden, this happened and everything changed in a heartbeat.”

They planned to do everything they could to get the arm back and even went to Boca Raton and spent $7,000 on what Gillian calls “a magical cure.”

“For a couple of years, all we were doing was going to rehab and doctor’s offices,” says Gillian about their journey. Then she learned about Abil House which helps people with brain injuries from a friend, Sandra, who suffered one. The organization had purchased a house and the gardens were a mess. Sandra thought Gerhard could give them some ideas.

Gerhard had never painted in his life when he enrolled in a class. He is an extremely prolific painter turning out new art pieces every couple of hours. This shows a sampling of his work which includes paintings, cards, vases and other crafts.

He gave them his ideas then got involved in the arts and crafts activities. Gillian got connected with Glenda Whelpley, an art teacher who offers painting
lasses at The Sunshine Center to stroke survivors. Gerhard was hooked.

“She (Glenda) couldn’t get over it,” says Gillian about how prolific a painter he was. While others worked on the same piece week after week, Gerhard turned out a painting in two hours. “They couldn’t stop him.”

When he painted at Abil house, Gillian went to a vegan restaurant for tea and met the owner who features local artists and offered to hang his work. “We had about 30 paintings hanging up there, so that is kind of how it got started.”
He had another show at their church, First Unity downtown. They have an art ministry known as “I AM” and feature artists. He also gave a speech about what happened to him and how art helped him. “It just goes from one thing to the next,” says Gillian.

They support the American Heart and Stroke Association. Gillian will be featured in a TV spot and in an upcoming promotion for “Go Red for Women,” a campaign to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke in women. And his work has been reproduced on greeting cards which are now for sale at a number of hospital gift shops and on etsy.com under GsArtPlus. They plan to support Abil House with 10 percent of their profits. “They love him there,” adds Gillian. He is known affectionately as Mr. G.

“We don’t even think about the left arm now… we’re so busy,” she says. “We would love it to come back, but in the meantime, it’s not our focus anymore, our purpose is for something positive.”

“There were times when it wasn’t very easy for both of us, then all of a sudden this has given him hope; it’s given him a reason to live; he knows he has a purpose.” He has even been able to cut out some medications for depression. “If you told me a year ago we would be doing this, I would have said you’re crazy. It’s just done so much good,” adds Gillian.

“I think one of the things that is most rewarding, and it’s almost overwhelming for me, is the number of people that come up to me and thank me for inspiring them or inspiring one of their family members. That’s really gratifying,” says Gerhard. Gillian adds, “We always knew there was going to be a reason for all this; that there was going to be a purpose for why this happened.”

For more information go to Gillian Doreen Galanter Endress on Facebook or call 901-634-3306.

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