Young artist sketches lessons about life with multiple sclerosis

In a small home studio, May Ling Kopecky uses canvas, paper, and colors to reveal herself to others.

"I want them to consider what they don't see when just looking at someone," said Kopecky. "I don't look sick. But I am."

Kopecky was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 15.  Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory autoimmune illness where the body attacks the myelin in the brain. Depending upon where the attack occurs in the brain, it can effect one’s motor skills, vision, and ability to concentrate.

"I struggle with recurring symptoms which are very common with multiple sclerosis, like fatigue, brain fog, muscle weakness, and heat intolerance," explained Kopecky.

May Ling Kopecky is a rising artist. (FOX 9)

She has had an affinity for art and drawing since childhood. After her MS symptoms developed, Kopecky used that talent to tell others about her condition. "It’s another form of language, really.  It’s a visual language," she said.

Her paintings and sketches often depict what she sees and what she experiences while living with MS. A blurry sketch of a laptop computer illustrates the fatigue she experiences.  Another somewhat obscure black-and-white sketch, a self-portrait, represents her brain fog.  The painting that looks like a double-exposed picture of her arm getting an I-V injection is meant to resemble the double vision she sometimes experiences.

"I find her work exceptionally beautiful," said her Mayo Clinic neurologist, Dr. Jan-Mendelt Tillema.

Art by May Ling Kopecky (FOX 9)

Kopecky has received her care for MS at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus. While it can be an anxious experience for adults, let alone children, Kopecky has come to find Mayo a place of comfort that cares for her disease.  Many of her paintings represent the hyper-realism of her appointments at Mayo including the room where she waits to get her MRI brain scans, even the hospital room where she’s had her treatments.

"It carries the emotions that I can imagine and the sentiment that I can imagine," said Dr. Tillema. "And her titles reflect that quite clearly of the process of going through visits here."

Her work is now enjoying a national audience. The Kennedy Center in Washington named Kopecky one of its top young artist in the nation in its VSA Emerging Young Artists Program. Two of her paintings are now touring the county as part of the Kennedy Center’s traveling exhibition.

Through her art, Kopecky says she is not just using her language to educate others about MS, but to also speak to those who suffer from MS and feel they are suffering in silence.

"So, I try to remind people, like, you’re symptoms are valid, what you’re experiencing is real," Kopecky explained.

Art by May Ling Kopecky (FOX 9)

Along the way, she has developed many admirers including her neurologist. "The message is that there is life with this," said Dr. Tillema.  "You can achieve your dreams and your future career should not be affected by this."

Kopecky has not let her MS slow her down. She’s earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Minnesota and just recently completed her master’s degree in fine arts from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She is now employed by MCAD where she helps other students with disabilities.

"I feel like I’m just finding new ways to talk about things and finding new ways to share my voice and experience," she said.

Kopecky currently has a display of some of her work at the Plymouth Art Gallery located at the Plymouth Community Center. The display runs through Oct. 6.