The very first question Leah Nixon Fitzgerald asked after her accident was, “Can I still draw?”
As an artist and illustrator, drawing is everything to Leah. That’s why learning that the forklift that fell on her spared her right arm by a few inches felt like a miracle.
“It’s crazy how life works out. I started drawing again just 14 days after the accident,” she says.
When a Craig Hospital representative came to speak with her in the ICU and said she could be independent again—cooking, driving and managing life on her own—it sounded too good to be true. Yet that’s exactly how it has played out. At Craig, Leah developed a life mantra of, “You can’t go back, so you might as well go forward.” That motto still motivates Leah today.
Leah and her sister, Grace, run a greeting card business called Tiny and Snail, a venture they started three years ago. While both sisters draw, Leah, who earned an art degree in college, primarily draws the cards, works with the printer and takes care of the website, while Grace keeps the business organized and manages customers.
While rehabilitating at Craig in the fall of 2018, Leah kept a comic journal of her time at the hospital. Every day, she’d draw. She also worked on a painting of her dog during art therapy in Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program. The staff noticed her amazing skills and asked if she would create a card to thank people who donated to the Craig Foundation.
“I looked for inspirational quotes and landed on one by Mary Davis that says, ‘The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see.’ It exactly described how I was feeling. I was so grateful for my family, the doctors, the nurses and my technicians at Craig,” Leah says.
The card, called More Beauty, is part of Tiny and Snail’s Keep Dancing series, launched on the first anniversary of her accident. Part of the proceeds goes toward research at Craig. This year, they’re launching a card series called the Courage Collection.
“It’s a reminder that every problem we encounter can be an adventure rather than a hardship,” she says.
Once again, they’ll give part of the proceeds to Craig.
“It’s exciting to be able to give back to Craig because they gave me so much. The staff is so positive. They see past the disability and see the person,” Leah says.
This year has had some challenges for Leah, but there are definitely some bright spots. One is that she and her husband, Kelsey, have decided to start a family. Another is she has a new wheelchair with rugged wheels that get the couple somewhere they love: outside and on trails. Still another is that she’s starting a blog on life hacks for people in wheelchairs. And possibly the most exciting happening is that she’s doing something she only ever dreamed she could do—illustrate a children’s book. It’s about a boy in a wheelchair and his dog.
“The publisher was looking for an illustrator in a wheelchair, and I happened to have those qualifications,” Leah says. “Being in a wheelchair, I knew how the boy would have to position himself, so I knew exactly how to draw each scene. Also, his dog helps him, just like my dog helps me.”
No doubt, Leah continues to experience both beauty and dancing in her life.