South Charlotte

Using artists to help a cause

Hannah Blanton's life changed one day when she was out for a walk.

In 2003, Hannah was strolling her young children through her Foxcroft neighborhood when her feet became numb. A registered nurse, Blanton knew the numbness was cause for concern.

Over the following week, the numbness and weakness moved up her body until she could barely walk, and paralysis set in from her chest down.

Doctors diagnosed Blanton with Guillain-Barré syndrome. According to the GBS/CIPD Foundation Inc. website, GBS is an inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.

Affecting one to two people in every 100,000, GBS is characterized by a rapid onset of weakness and, often, paralysis of the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face.

It took more than two months of treatment and intense occupational, physical and speech therapy for Blanton to relearn how to sit, stand and walk. Fortunately, most with GBS recover; however, the length of the illness and recovery can vary. For some, paralysis can be permanent.

After her experience, Blanton was determined to help others overcome the challenges of the disease.

In November 2009, a sermon by the Rev. Bob Henderson at Blanton's church, Covenant Presbyterian, guided her to help other GBS sufferers.

Henderson shared the story of a local artist who was homeless and disabled. The real message of the artist's life was that she gave the money earned from her art back to her homeless neighbors.

Shortly after the sermon, Blanton and her family were serving dinner to homeless people and families at Room in the Inn at their church when she met the artist Henderson had spoken about.

The chance meeting sparked Blanton's imagination, and Carolina Art Soiree was born.

"We are all survivors of something or another; mine happens to be GBS," said Blanton, 41. "We are given challenges and it's how we use those circumstances and our own gifts that becomes the blessing in blessing others."

Carolina Art Soiree is an exhibition of local artists benefiting GBS/CIPD Advocacy. Similar to GBS, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy is also a disorder of the peripheral nerves that causes weakness in the legs and sometimes in the arms.

Blanton and event co-chairwoman Nancy Maloney, 48, designer and owner of Good Manors Inc., share a connection to GBS: Maloney's husband developed GBS more than 10 years ago.

Together, Blanton and Maloney connect local artists with patrons through Carolina Art Soiree and raise money for the GBS/CIPD Foundation.

"The Soiree is like baking a cake," said Blanton. "I gather the ingredients needed and bake the cake, but Nancy is the icing and detailing on the cake. She has the eye, the expert design, the touch with flowers and handles the grouping of the artwork. She creates the ambience.

"We are a great team. Many of these artists have tremendous talents but need another venue to be seen and appreciated."

This year's event took place May 5 at Morrison SouthPark. Guests enjoyed food and drinks from sponsors Petit Phillippe, Delish Gourmet Cupcakes, Penny's Pimento Cheese, Earth Fare, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Southern Artisan Spirits and the wine department of the Morrocroft Harris Teeter.

Forty percent of each tax-deductible purchase went directly to the GBS/CIPD Foundation. More than 30 artists participated this year, including artists from Urban Ministry Center's Artworks945 program. The event raised $30,000.

"The Carolina Art Soiree is the largest fundraiser for the foundation," said Blanton. "The money raised helps the foundation support advocacy, education, awareness and research for the disease."

The Charlotte GBS/CIPD Support Group also hosts an annual 5K and Miracle Mile to raise money. That fundraiser, which was held May 7, had 385 participants.

This year's Mother's Day was a joyous one for Blanton, spent with family and friends and with the realization she is making a difference in the lives of others.