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Artist finds healing, focus in faces

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A mother’s blessing and her curse is knowing everything.

Little escapes our notice when it comes to our children. Call it mother’s intuition, a divine providence pipeline, the result of having eyes in the backs of our heads.

Sometimes, though, we would love not to know, especially when what we know is bad. Really bad.

Debbie Hucke knew something bad could happen when her son, Ian, then 21, moved into a house with friends near the University of New Mexico – not an odd situation for a typical college student.

Ian Hucke’s painting “Aeisha” features a woman he imagines is a kind and well-liked bank teller who struggles with loneliness while her military husband is away on a tour of duty. (Courtesy of Ian Hucke)

But Ian isn’t typical.

He’s a friendly guy, the kind of person who hops on a bus and knows everybody before the ride is over. The kind of person people don’t forget.

“I like meeting someone new every day,” he said. “I will never tire of meeting more people.”

He’s an artist whose specialty is painting the people he meets. He’s the only redhead in his family. And he’s the only one in his family to have a rare genetic disease that particularly afflicts people with northern New Mexico Hispanic ancestry, though Ian is neither Hispanic nor descended from northern New Mexico ancestors.

Debbie Hucke has known things about her son all his life. She knew his slight limping and the coolness of his right foot when he was 18 months old were a sign of something that could be very bad – and it was. He was diagnosed then with cavernous angioma, also called cerebral cavernous malformation, or CCM, in which blood vessels form raspberry-like clusters in the brain and spinal cord that sometimes bleed, causing seizures, paralysis and other neurological deficits.

Ian Hucke, 23, has endured a dangerous neurological disease that has caused partial blindness and paralysis and a car crash. (Courtesy of Debbie Hucke)

Ian’s first angioma bleed caused weakness on his right side and optic nerve, but because it was located in a tricky spot on the brain stem, it could not be surgically removed.

When Ian was 4, she knew that his lethargy could be very bad – and it was. The angioma had grown larger. In November 2000, Ian underwent a risky surgery to remove it, but after eight hours, the Huckes were told surgeons were unable to remove it.

Take Ian home, the surgeon counseled. Love him.

Debbie and her husband, Doug Hucke, senior pastor at Sandia Presbyterian Church, did that, determined to let Ian live his best life.

“He’s strong-willed and fearless and just wants to be out there, meeting people, joking around,” she said. “He has a relentless desire to be normal.”

Ian Hucke’s painting “Zacharias” features a London resident he imagines grows strawberries for a farmers market and is originally from a village in the Scottish highlands. (Courtesy of Ian Hucke)

At age 18, Ian began suffering seizures and tried to hide them from his mother – but she knew. A new angioma, this one the size of a man’s fist, was surgically removed.

A third, smaller angioma was discovered in 2017 and removed.

Then came Ian’s desire to move in with friends in a house on Princeton near UNM.

“I was against it,” Debbie Hucke said. “Call it mom’s intuition. But I was outnumbered, so I sucked it up.”

She thought about what Ian told her: “Mom, I’d rather die than not live life.”

Five days after he moved in, he almost did die. A witness reported that Ian was one step from the curb on Lead SE near his new home when he was struck by a truck on Aug. 16, 2017.

The crash left his skull shattered, his brain hemorrhaging, his pelvis crushed, his shoulder and femur broken and his lungs collapsed.

He remained in a coma for six weeks. He spent two months at the University of New Mexico Hospital, then nearly five months at Craig Hospital near Denver and a month at QLI medical rehabilitation center in Omaha, Neb.

“I had to learn to walk, write and read again,” said Ian Hucke, now 23. “It was tough in the beginning, but it gets extremely easier every day.”

Since his return to Albuquerque in February 2018, he has continued to push the envelope – and his mother’s mama bear instincts as she watches him struggle to find his footing in his new normal. Despite all his challenges, he continues to attend UNM in pursuit of a bachelor of fine arts degree. Two weeks ago, he moved into a campus dorm – an “experiment,” his mother calls it.

Through it all, his art has helped focus and sustain him, especially his watercolors of people. He imagines their lives, where they come from, what they do.

His collection of people will be featured at an art show next month at the Harwood Art Center, a major accomplishment.

He paints now with the use of only his left hand, his mostly nonfunctional right hand resting on his lap. He wears glasses to help him see, uses a brace to help him walk. Tests indicate that injuries to his brain, protected by titanium to replace pulverized skull bone, impaired his cognitive function and memory – but not his sense of humor or his hope of living someday as an artist in New York.

“I know that what I have is probably really, really bad,” he said. “I know that in my heart. But I don’t need to know that. I need to be happy in real life.”

What his mother knows is that, for now, it’s all good.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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