Art From Tragedy

JOHNSTOWN – It’s been almost 10 years since Sara Orleanski of Johnstown suffered a traumatic brain injury in a serious automobile accident.

Now 25, Orleanski has re-learned how to walk and talk, and also makes mosaic tile artwork.

The accident occurred on the New York State Thruway on July 15, 2004, Orleanski’s mother, Kathy Orleanski, said. Sara was airlifted to the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where she underwent surgery to relieve the pressure caused by swelling in her brain.

The accident happened the summer after Sara’s ninth-grade year. She remained in the medical center for 23 days and was then transferred to the brain injury unit at Sunnyview Rehabiltion Hospital in Schenectady.

“We don’t like to look back at what happened; we like to focus on how far she has come,” her mother said.

Fourteen months after her accident, Sara returned to Johnstown High School and received her IEP diploma in 2007 with her graduating class, her mother said.

Now, Sara participates in a number of programs, spends time on Facebook, makes bracelets in her free time and reads with her mother. Kathy just finished reading “The Dork Diaries” to Sara. They enjoy funny books, Kathy said.

Sara began making mosaic art pieces in the “Not Your Ordinary Craft Group” at Living Resources in Albany. Sara joined the group two years ago, her mother said. So far, she has made five mosaic pictures and two planters.

“It’s all beautiful; every little piece is great to look at it,” said Patrick Reynolds, a former schoolmate and church program member of Sara’s. Reynolds now lives in New York City and visits the Orleanskis when he is in the area.

According to Kathy, Sara never really had much interest in art until her counselor, Joella Casse, at Living Resources suggested the idea.

Casse met Sara through Intensive Cognition Rehab after Sara’s accident. According to Casse, when it comes to her artwork, Sara is very skilled, very precise and notices all the details.

According to Casse, Sara suffered from adynamia, which made it difficult for her to come up with her own thoughts. Sara had to train her brain how to think.

“She may only say one word, but her facial expressions say a thousand,” Casse said.

According to Casse, Sara’s philosophy is to never be negative and to always stay positive.

One of Sara’s pieces, a self-portrait, “Love, Lobster, Me,” was chosen to be in the New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies 2014 Art Exhibit, her mother said. Her self-portrait will be on display throughout the month of July at the Albany Visitors Center.

“It’s amazing what she has accomplished,” said Lisa Eagan, from the Wells Nursing Home.

Sara participates in the Wells House Wellness Program a couple times a week to maintain physical activity, her mother explained.

Orleanski displayed her artwork recently at the Wells House and sold a few of her bracelets.