Emma Parcells, a student at NHTI – Concord’s community college, has embarked on an inspiring journey through the world of art while managing the challenges of major, life-changing health issues at a young age. Over almost a decade, her passion for art has become a tool for healing, which she discovered throughout her years of being in chronic pain.
At age 11, Emma was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, a rare condition that inflicts chronic pain and can affect the ability to walk, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of Dysautonomia. At that time, she was also diagnosed with a genetic connective tissue disorder called HEDS – Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. This disorder causes generalized joint instability which results in frequent joint dislocations. An athlete as a younger child, she has been confined to a wheelchair for nearly a decade.
From an early age, Emma displayed an extraordinary connection to art that stood out among her classmates. After being diagnosed with CRPS, she needed to spend a lot of time in her room where it was quiet, as noises and vibrations exacerbated the chronic pain. Emma was given mandala coloring books –geometric designs that represent the cosmos – to help her pass the time. She discovered the healing power of art and realized it was more than just a life-long hobby. For Emma, art became a powerful therapeutic outlet that made the pain “less.”
“Art distracts me from the pain and lets me escape reality. By giving my brain a break, it makes my pain easier to manage,” Emma said.
After exploring various treatment options that were unsuccessful, Emma started a protocol of high-dose ketamine infusions at the Florida Spine Institute. In 2017, Emma began traveling there regularly for treatments that alleviated the chronic pain for about eight to 10 weeks at a time. She spends a week getting infusions that bring the pain to a manageable level and returns to New Hampshire to recover and resume her studies and art until the pain increases again.
Emma’s passion for art continued to grow as she managed the disease and cyclical treatments. She graduated from Concord High School in 2022, with art playing an essential role to get her through these challenges. Drawing mandalas that were more and more complex became her passion and the focus of her art, and she often spends weeks perfecting them.
Transitioning to college life can be intimidating for any young adult, but for Emma, attending college with a disability created additional hurdles. Furthermore, on top of those concerns, she hadn’t attended an in-person class since before the pandemic. Emma felt immediately connected to the staff at NHTI from day one. She is thankful for the amount of support NHTI has provided to help her fully immerse herself in the college experience. The college’s commitment to accessibility and assistance for students with disabilities continues to play a vital role in enabling Emma to be engaged in her studies, including studio time for her favorite class – ceramics.
“The staff at NHTI has been amazing at helping me transition to college despite my disabilities,” said Emma. “The professors have been very flexible with my treatment schedules by allowing me to make up the work I miss when I’m gone.”
In 2019, Emma’s doctor submitted a referral to Make-A-Wish. Once Emma’s eligibility was confirmed, the Foundation granted her wish in 2021—which was to have her own art studio. The Make-A-Wish Foundation fulfilled her dream by constructing a personal studio within her apartment.
Emma, expressing her gratitude, said, “my art studio is amazing, and it gives me the freedom to create anything I could imagine. Having the studio in my apartment lets me make art even if I am too sick to leave.”
In addition to her new art studio and a significant amount of art supplies, Emma connected with Ann Trainor Domingue – which were all components of her granted wish. Trainor Domingue, an experienced artist and educator from Goffstown, became a mentor to Emma as her artistic skills progressed.
While Emma’s artistic talent helped her cope with the challenges of her disability and its associated pain and regular treatments, her personal story of resilience and positivity also caught the attention of others. She was asked by the Make-a-Wish Foundation to tell this story in video form so it could be shared with others for inspiration and hope. She was also asked to make a print for the Make-A-Wish Breakfast for Wishes Fundraiser that was given to attendees. She attended the event, where the video was played to a large audience.
As Emma shared her story and the positive impact of her Make-A-Wish experience, the audience was deeply touched, leading to numerous post-video conversations where people inquired about her artwork. At the event were staff members from Chaos & Kindness, the philanthropically oriented stores founded by the members of Recycled Percussion. They asked her to design apparel for their line as part of the store’s program to recognize local artists. Of course, she agreed.
Initially unsure of how her design would turn out, Emma was left speechless when she first saw her artwork displayed on a hoodie and tank top on the Chaos & Kindness website. As Emma’s art design gained recognition, it brought her immense joy to see people wearing her art, and this became a valuable source of comfort while facing the challenges of CRPS.
“When people create art, they pour out part of themselves into something. When people liked my design, it helped make me feel better about being in pain,” Emma shared.
Emma is determined to continue her art journey, with a strong focus on expanding her skills by exploring new techniques. Her dedication to art is evident as she completed her ceramics course and is excited to continue her studies at NHTI. She aspires to expand her artistic horizons, saying that she has no plans to stop pursuing art.
“Art is a huge part of my life and will remain with me forever.”