Rare talent

Local teen recovers from stroke, wins national art contest

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Charter School of Morgan Hill student Mariah Fisher had to learn how to use her left hand before she drew the rose pictured above. The drawing won the 2019 Rare Art contest.

Local teen Mariah Fisher is no stranger to isolation and what might now be termed “social distancing,” as she spent seven weeks in hospitals and rehab facilities after she suffered a stroke due to a rare condition known as Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM).

The emergency left Mariah, formerly an athlete of several sports, paralyzed on her right side. She underwent “tons” of surgeries and procedures—including the removal and reattachment of a portion of her skull—in the months after her stroke, Mariah said in a recent interview.

When she finally returned to the freedom of her home, friends and school, Mariah slowly learned to become left-handed through an exhausting rehabilitation process. Earlier this year, Mariah—an eighth grader at Charter School of Morgan Hill—was announced as the winner of a national art contest for a colored pencil drawing of a rose that she created entirely with her left hand.

Mariah, now 14, won in the Teen Category of the 2019 Rare Art Contest conducted by the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases. More than 400 artists submitted their creations to the 2019 contest, and Mariah was one of three teens who won in her category.

Mariah and her mother, Rebecca Fisher, were invited to an artists’ reception in February, during Rare Disease Week, in Washington, D.C. Mariah gave a brief, yet inspiring speech in front of about 200 people, and enjoyed meeting other people with rare diseases and disabilities.

In her speech, Mariah described a school project that her teacher sent to her parents while she was in the hospital. “We had to pick a quote,” Mariah said. “Mine was, ‘Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you react to it,’ by Charles R. Swindoll.”

And just days before her trip to the nation’s capital, Mariah was named a Youth Ambassador for The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF). She was also selected for the Make A Wish program, though the Covid-19 pandemic has indefinitely delayed her choice of a Caribbean cruise.

Even after seeing Mariah fight for her life following her stroke, and continuing to struggle as she attempts to regain a little more strength each day, her mother said the teen’s positive attitude and determination have not wavered. “I haven’t heard her complain one time,” Rebecca Fisher said.

Mariah had the stroke on Sept. 25, 2018, just before her second volleyball game for the Charter School of Morgan Hill team. At first, Mariah noticed she was “talking funny.” Her mother began to drive her to the hospital, and Mariah’s condition rapidly deteriorated on the way.

By the time they arrived at the emergency room, Mariah was “completely unresponsive,” her mother said. She was quickly transferred to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Doctors diagnosed Mariah with a stroke, caused by a rare AVM condition. In her speech during Rare Disease Week, Mariah described AVM as, “a tangle of veins and arteries that can bleed at a higher rate than normal ones.” Like many AVM patients, Mariah did not know she had the disease before her 2018 stroke.

At Lucile Packard, Mariah underwent emergency surgery to remove part of her skull in order to relieve pressure from the bleeding. The skull section was placed in a freezer for three months and reattached in January 2019. Mariah had to wear a helmet before the reattachment surgery.

Mariah was in a coma for several days after the emergency. “When she woke up, she couldn’t even speak,” Rebecca said. “She had to relearn everything.”

That required a few more weeks of rehab before she could leave the hospital. A video on YouTube, created by her family, documents Mariah’s rapid progress and key milestones throughout her recovery. She walked out of the hospital nearly seven weeks after her stroke.

The YouTube video shows Mariah enjoying gymnastics, volleyball, running and archery before her stroke. It shares images of Mariah’s father, Mike, and older siblings, Sara and Ryan, visiting her in the hospital.

Mariah said there is no reason to be bored or unproductive during a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic or a medical emergency that might require a prolonged period of isolation.

“There’s so many things you can do: draw or shrinky dinks, or art projects. You could do drills for sports in your front yard,” she said. “Don’t be a complainer. There will be a time when you are going to do sports again, and see your friends. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In general, she offered succinct advice for anyone who is struggling to overcome difficult challenges: “Keep going.”

Watch a video about Mariah’s AVM rupture and stroke survival at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBhBtcQIpUY.