A man with a neuromuscular disease has displayed his artwork in a central London gallery to raise money for the hospital where he is a patient.
Christopher Samuel, 43, suffers from a disease similar to Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which over time causes severe muscle weakness and nerve damage. Doctors have never been able to give him a specific diagnosis.
The condition causes Christopher to suffer numbness in his arms and legs and he also requires help with breathing.
His artwork was on display among 700 other pieces at Gallery Different in Fitzrovia until Sunday. It reflected on his experiences growing up in the UK in the 1980s as a disabled, black child from a working-class background.
All proceeds will go to The National Brain Appeal, which supports The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London’s Queen Square. Christopher spent a significant amount of time as a patient at the hospital for two decades.
“This is a perfect way for me to show my gratitude to them and to all the staff at The National Hospital,” he told the Standard.
When Christopher was a child, his mother Carol noticed he would frequently fall over or get fatigued. “I remember trying to run, my mind would want to run but my legs weren’t moving,” he said.
Over time, his feet began to turn inwards and eventually his legs were cast in splints. By his late 20s, Christopher could no longer walk following a fall that broke his thigh bone.
This sparked a period of depression that coincided with a long spell as an inpatient at The National.
“The hospital felt like home and I was so comfortable there. Everyone knew me - all the physios, dieticians, porters. However, I was still sad inside. I wanted to do more with my life but I didn’t know how. I felt trapped.”
Christopher credits consultant neurologist Professor Mary Reilly and Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Karen Bull, who took care of him at The National, with helping to turn his life around.
“It was like they had a crystal ball. They could tell there was more going on in my head than I was letting on. They would go out of their way for me,” he said.
“You can tell when someone is really listening to you. They were never judgemental. They communicated with me on the same level.”
He added: “Aside from my mum, who was an incredible woman who I sadly lost last year, Karen and Prof Reilly have had a huge and positive impact on me. They have changed my life in so many different ways. I don’t think they know how much.”
Christopher went on to sign up for an art and design course at a college for disabled students after his family moved from London to Coventry.
“It was a lightbulb moment. The teachers were amazing,” he said. “They pushed me to explore and express my feelings and tell my story through art.”
Christopher said that drawing his first self-portrait was pivotal in his artistic development. He had just been provided his first electronic wheelchair and realised he could use armrest as a support for his elbow and then use both arms to draw.
“It was life-changing, really poignant. I had no idea I could do that.”
Christopher went on to finish a BTEC and Foundation Course before beginning a degree in Fine Art at De Montfort University. He graduated with a first in 2017 and went on to work at a local gallery as a trainee curator, putting on his first solo exhibition there in 2018.
Karen is now semi-retired but stays in touch with Christopher. “I’m so proud of him. He sends me prints of work he has done and he also makes me handmade Christmas cards, which I love,” she said.
Professor Mary Reilly said: “Christopher is a special person, very charismatic, engaging and popular. He’s been an absolute pleasure to look after for all these years. He’s also a testament to what Queen Square can achieve even when there is no specific treatment available.”
Christopher now has his own his own art studio and his own business, employing four staff. He now lives with his brother Aiden and has 24-hour care.
Other celebrities taking part in the exhibition include Andrew Marr, Greg Wise and Terry Hall. All artworks are priced at £85 and will be anonymous until sold.
The National Brain Appeal’s fundraising exhibition of art on envelopes, A Letter in Mind, takes place at Gallery Different, 14 Percy Street, London W1T 1DR and online at alim.nationalbrainappeal.org from 3-6 November.