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Saline Car Crash Victim Creates Art to Fuel Recovery

Jamal Bell suffered a traumatic brain injury 16 years ago at the age of 6, but now is a mentor to many.

A life can change in an instant, but that doesn’t always mean the change is permanent.

Saline resident Jamal Bell sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car accident 16 years ago at the age of 6 that left most of his body immobile. But now, thanks to the therapy team at Romulus' Special Tree Rehabilitation System, Bell has become his treatment clinic’s resident artist.

“As long as I’ve known him, that’s been his gig,” said Joe Richert, Special Tree’s director of community rehabilitation services. “He’s always had that artistic knack and it was obviously something we included in his treatment. It was his interest and we were able to foster it through his rehabilitation process.”

For Bell, it doesn’t matter what kind of art he does as long as he can create. The placid nature of his craft helps him relax and take his mind off the physical problems he deals with.  

“I like working with all different mediums (and) I don’t always use the same thing,” he said. “I really like calligraphy pen because you can mess up and it can still come out as a good picture.”

Special Tree specializes in brain injury and spinal cord injury rehabilitation with more than 25 locations throughout Michigan.  The company offers a wide range of treatment programs from childhood to adulthood including vocational and community rehabilitation services that help clients like Jamal to build on their skills and talents to become as independent and productive as possible.

To that end, Bell is taking college courses and any vocational opportunities Special Tree can provide for him that focus on the arts. Last September, he began teaching as an art teacher’s assistant at Ann Visger Elementary School in River Rouge with on-site support from a Special Tree job coach.  Eventually, Bell would like to move on to customizing shoes, though currently, he said he is attempting to sell his art.

“The goal is to help our younger clients learn the skills they need, give them support and prevocational abilities from childhood to adulthood,” Richert said. “They’re either productive in college or in a vocational program. They attain the skills they need to live independently and be integrated in the community and social scene.”

Bell’s latest project is a mural of Paws, the mascot of the Detroit Tigers. The plan was to bring more color to a room at their center, while keeping it Detroit focused. A sports theme was suggested and Bell took the idea and ran with it.

"I look forward to doing more art and finding other arts I don't really know that much about and trying new things because I love art," Bell said in a YouTube video.

(This story is courtesy of Gabriel Ouzounian.)

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