Orange County

Paralyzed man finds his true calling: painting works of art with his mouth

A rare neurological condition left him paralyzed. Now he's inspiring others with his ability to create art only with the use of his mouth

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From his bed in an Orange County, California, nursing home, Henry Salas loves to create artwork that must be seen to be believed.

"I surprise myself sometimes when I draw," he said. "I'm like, wow. I'm like, I did that."

The surprise in Salas' art isn't the final product, but in how he does it: using only his mouth.

As a result, The Mouth Ninja, as he is known on social media, has gained a following of hundreds of thousands of people who are amazed with his work.

"You get in a zone and it's just like time just doesn't exist," he said.

It's been nearly 12 years since Salas, 31, was paralyzed due to Transverse Myelitis, a rare neurological condition.

It took just 45 minutes for the condition to attack his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed, with only control of his head. Soon after, a doctor told his mom he had just months to live.

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"There was not much hope for me, I only was given three months of life," Salas said. "You know, doctors are doctors and here I am. I'm an artist, I guess you could say a successful one."

A dozen years later, Salas is still proving his doctors wrong. 

He said he's always been an artist, but once he lost control of his hands, he rediscovered his love for drawing by using his mouth to control a stylus on a specialized tablet connected to a computer. Salas spent two years designing a website, where he sells his art, the very same way.

His mother, Magda Aguilar, is in disbelief at times at how far her son has come.

"As a mother, I feel so proud," she said. “He's the one inspiring not only me, there's been so many people around him, around me, and it's amazing."

What's amazing is that Salas wasn't satisfied with just drawing digital art. He said he couldn't feel like a real artist until he could replicate his drawings with paper and pen.

"I called the nurse and I told her, can you just give me a stack of printing paper and a ballpoint pen?" he explained. "And sure enough, like, I guess I'm that good because the first portrait drawing was on a ballpoint pen, which I can't erase. You can't go back."

It's not unlike how Salas can't go back to the time when he could still draw with his hands. But he remains forever optimistic, creating a brand all on his own called, Resilience of Mind. 

He said it's a testament to the importance of positivity.

"Mainly being resilient and just not let, you know, something like this define the stereotype of someone in my condition," Salas said. 

He would rather be defined by kindness — the kind people around the world have shown him — and the kind he shows himself.

"That's Henry, being resilient of mind,” he said. “That's one of my brand names, 'Resilience of Mind.’ That's Henry Salas."

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