Quadriplegic painter shows the art of determination

'If you really want it to happen, it can happen'

MAIDENCREEK TWP., Pa. - The first thing you notice is the smile, the happy grins on the faces, but even more, the smile on the face of the painter.

It's like Cindy Hettinger can barely control her smile. It might be because it's one thing she can control.

"Only thing I've ever known," said Hettinger, who was born with a tumor that wrapped itself around her spinal cord. "So that's what's made me not be able to walk or use my hands.

But the funny thing about artists is that they typically find a way. In preschool, when she wanted to draw and paint like everybody else, she stuck a paintbrush in her mouth, and that was that.

"I like to encourage everybody to not think of like what they can't do, think about what they can do," Hettinger said.

As she grew, her desire to work did, too. The Berks County woman wanted to start her own LulaRoe business, but she needed $5,000 for the starter kit.

"So I was like, 'What can I do?' so Jeremiah's like, 'Why don't you go live and paint?' Hettinger recalled.

Jeremiah, her home-care worker, helped her get set up with a Facebook live account, and Hettinger started painting.

She painted every kind of Christmas smile you could think of -- snowmen, elves, Santa -- on little burlap sacks, then filled them with scents and berries, and turned them into festive reminders that all those differences are the things that make each one unique.

"I used to go talk to little kids and let them know not to be afraid of somebody like me," Hettinger said. "If you see somebody like me out in public, just say, 'Hi.' It just makes us feel better to know that they don't look at us different."

She made her $5,000 that first weekend, selling her Christmas crafts, and in two months, her dreams have grown to working toward buying her own wheelchair-accessible house, with its own craft room.

To some people, smiling through challenges is a struggle. To Cindy Hettinger, it's an art.

"I just want the people to know that, yes, we all have challenges every day," she said, "but if you really want it to happen, it can happen."

Check out Hettinger's Facebook page for her creations.

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