GAIL WHITE Despite epilepsy, local man paints a positive picture

When Scott Chopra of Howland started school, his teachers thought he had a learning disability.
"We would do flashcards," Ed Chopra, Scott's father, says. "He would know 2 + 2 = 4, but he would come home from school with a paper that read 2 + 2 = 27."
In sixth grade, Scott was found wandering aimlessly through the school parking lot.
"That's when we knew this wasn't a learning disability," Ed says. "It was something else."
What it was, they learned, was epilepsy.
Internal havoc: Scott suffers from temporal seizures. His seizures have little outward characteristics, though they wreak havoc in his brain.
"There are times when I can't tell he's had a seizure," Ed says, "until he starts to speak."
The words come out confused and jumbled.
After a seizure, Scott struggles with recovery for nearly a week.
"There is a constant pounding in my head," Scott says. "And I feel dizzy all the time."
It may be a month before Scott will be struck with another seizure, perhaps longer. Each time, his recovery is the same.
"I've seen about 100 doctors," as Scott explains his efforts to gain control of his seizures. Nothing has worked.
In 1998, when Scott was 26, he underwent brain surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.
"They told me there was a 70-percent chance I would be seizure-free," Scott explains. Unfortunately, his fate fell on the 30-percent side.
Acknowledging his struggle: As I talk with this promising young man, my heart breaks for the hardships he has had to endure.
Yet, this disease that has prohibited him from so many opportunities has been the biggest impetus behind his greatest blessing.
Scott is a painter.
"Painting was the only thing that the seizures didn't interfere with," Scott says soberly.
What he found, in fact, was that after a seizure, he could not stop painting.
"It is like an electrical charge to my brain," he says, shaking his head because he is not happy with his choice of words. "I don't know how to explain it."
Whatever havoc his seizures cause in his brain, his hands take that cursed chaos and create beauty.
What he does: Portraits are Scott's fort & eacute;. His two favorite portraits he painted are of his grandfathers. One in his Navy uniform and the other in Army garb.
"The night that I came back from the clinic, after being told that I would have the brain surgery, I watched 'Saving Private Ryan'," Scott says.
Though just a movie, the experience had a profound effect on Scott.
"I knew that seizures or surgery wouldn't be the worst thing in the world," he says.
The portraits of his grandfathers are the first paintings he did after his surgery. Since then, he has painted more than 200 World War II and Vietnam War scenes and written 1,000 pages of war history.
"I didn't consciously make a decision to paint war scenes, it's just something I did," Scott smiles sheepishly. "It helped me keep my mind off my epilepsy."
He found, as picture after picture left his drawing board, that his work was creating a record of his healing.
"Each one helped me to see I was getting better," Scott recalls.
Honing his skill: From shaky, somewhat ragged strokes to smooth, fine, textured lines, his paintings have become a masterpiece of overcoming. Scott will, most likely, always have epilepsy, but epilepsy will not have him.
The creative flow that is in his mind will not be halted by this disease that periodically jolts his brain.
A selection of Scott's paintings can be seen at the Laird Gallery in Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
The show is called "Brainstorms." It features the work of many other local artists with epilepsy.

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