Hero Stories is an original Medical Travel Compared blog series. It highlights the extraordinary work done by genuine heroes – people who have dedicated a part of their lives to helping others in need. This month, we interviewed Bob, after suffering from a heart attack he found a passion for painting, which has since led to him raising over £40,000 for a variety of charitable causes.
Bob Sutcliffe used to be a very active person, regularly partaking in triathlons.
But, back in 2017 – life as he knew it, changed forever.
Whilst training for the London Marathon, Bob contracted a virus and suffered a heart attack shortly after.
This resulted in him being diagnosed with a rare heart condition – which would in turn grind Bob’s active lifestyle to an abrupt halt…
Picking up the Paintbrush
After being advised to find a more relaxing activity to turn his hand to, Bob’s brother presented him with a set of watercolour paints (something which Bob initially perceived as a joke).
Nevertheless, he decided to put brush to paper and give it a go.
Little did he know; this paint set would spark a whole new passion for art, and a dedication to raising thousands of pounds to support a variety of charities.
Now, aged 48, he’s painting for people all over the world.
He hadn’t painted in years, not since O level art when he was in school, and that certainly didn’t include watercolour paints.
“I’m not a very patient person,” Bob explained.
“…But suddenly, I was interested in capturing fine detail and expression in my art. It was quite bizarre.”
Starting initially to paint for family and friends, he enjoyed taking requests for images they wanted painting.
As the word spread, his paintings soon turned into commissions – and before he knew it, Bob had a steady stream of income from his artwork.
But, that’s not what he started it for.
He wanted to give back. With the funds generated from selling his artwork, Bob knew he had the perfect opportunity to paint for charity.
And, not just for one charity in isolation, either. From the first day he started painting, Bob has been committed to helping multiple not-for-profit organisations close to his heart.
“I’ve raised £41,000 for different causes including buying a wheelchair for a little boy in need. I raise money for Support Dogs for people with disabilities. I’ve also funded mental health training for a community school in Zambia.”
However, despite finding a new calling in his artwork – he continues to battle with his health. Bob also suffers with epilepsy, which is why he has such a close affinity with Epilepsy Action (amongst The British Heart Foundation and Children with Cancer).
“I struggle with seizures and have broken my wrists and suffered various injuries over the last 10 months. However, I’ve continued to paint, both to relax, and to inspire people to continue to be successful no matter what they suffer from.”
In the last 10 months, he has continued to paint, showing his selfless commitment to raising money to support other people, regardless of his own setbacks.
Advice for Those Whose Lives Have Been Impacted by a Heart Condition
When it comes to discussing the impact a heart condition may have on your life, it’s worth remembering that everyone’s journey is different; especially considering there are many different types to be aware of.
A positive approach towards living with this condition, and the journey it takes you on – has enabled Bob to start something truly special through his paintings.
Not allowing the condition to define you is something vitally important to Bob. Your lifestyle may initially change; but, you should still be able to enjoy the things you love as you learn to manage your condition.
Bob was a very active individual prior to his heart attack, and although he’s suffered a setback - he’s still keen to pursue that lifestyle once again.
“Don’t think you can’t do things you used to be able to,” he said.
“Firstly, fitness gradually returns. Secondly, new doors open and you adapt and take on different things. I struggled emotionally and felt bereft at first... like I’d lost something. It’s worth bearing this in mind and tackling these feelings. It’s good to talk!”
When speaking to him about what motivated him, it was clear how much the support he received strengthened his outlook on life and motivation to recover.
“The biggest positive from everything that has happened to me is the love and support from friends and strangers. Everyone wills me to get better and to do great things. I am truly blessed.”
Spreading the Word
As you know, Bob didn’t want to make money from his art work, but instead wanted to raise as much money for charities and causes he was touched by.
And, he utilised the power of social media to kick start his charity painting mission.
He said: “As a member of different forums, I am inspired or touched by the different stories I read about - a pet or relation that’s died suddenly, a relationship worth celebrating or someone who deserves a boost; so I paint for them.”
I’ve painted about 30 paintings for people I don’t know but who I now class as friends via my paintings. One included an 18-year-old man who had just been diagnosed with epilepsy and was struggling to come terms with it. I’m in regular contact with his mum to see how he is getting on.”
It’s clear, his work goes beyond just painting. He’s been moved and motivated to paint for other people based on their own journeys; to bring them happiness.
This has also allowed him to form new relations along the way, which he will continue to do whilst he’s painting.
Advice for those looking to get into Art and Painting
If reading Bob’s journey and seeing his paintings has inspired you to pick up the paintbrush yourself, now is the perfect opportunity.
“You never know what skills you may have hidden. Art is very broad, so anything goes! Have a dabble, keep practising... and you find your niche.”
Painting is a hobby which can be done by all, and takes many different forms so you are likely to find something that you truly enjoy doing. Whether it’s for therapeutic reasons – or simply just to learn a new skill, it’s easy to get started.
And, you don’t even have to start showcasing your work, your art work can be kept private, just for you to appreciate.
Like all of our Hero Stories – Bob’s is another poignant example of not letting your condition define you. Your life will inevitably change, but staying positive is key.
Adapt your hobbies, and take this journey as an opportunity to try new things.
You can see from Bob’s experience just how much enjoyment and relaxation painting has brought to his life, something he never thought he’d naturally enjoy doing.
And, if you’re going through a similar situation, you too may find enjoyment in learning a new skillset – challenging yourself to do something different.