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For Jon Sarkin, it began in 1988 when he suddenly began experiencing tinnitus and abnormally sensitive hearing to certain sounds. A successful chiropractor with a practice in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, Jon’s condition was linked a blood vessel pressing on his acoustic nerve. Because of his worsening symptoms, he agreed to a delicate operation carried out by a Pittsburgh neurosurgeon in 1989. During the operation however, he began hemorrhaging and experienced a massive stroke that left him comatose for weeks. Doctors removed much of the left side of his brain and he had damage to his cerebellum as well. Despite a long rehabilitation, he was left permanently deaf in one ear with slurred speech, double vision, and an impaired sense of balance that forced him to walk with a cane.
Though he eventually returned to his practice in 1990, Sarkin found dealing with clients emotionally and physically exhausting despite frequent rest breaks. He also spent more time “doodling” on his letterhead paper and eventually sold several doodles to the New Yorker. After selling his practice in 1993, he decided to devote his time to drawing and caring for his three children while his wife acted as his interface with the outside world. While his neurological symptoms never improved and despite bouts of depression, Jon Sarkin has established a reputation as an artist with his first New York art show in 2003 and a life story that has since been optioned by Tom Cruise’s movie production company.
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Can artistic ability suddenly develop as a result of brain disease? Cases of “sudden artistic output” following brain injury are relatively rare but unexpected artistic talent emerging in brain patients has been well-documented. While savant syndrome found in people suffering from severe learning disorders such as autism has become well-recognized through movies such as Rain Man, acquired savant syndrome, when a new talent suddenly develops in adults following illness is still poorly understood.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today post.
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