Victims of Brain Trauma Driven to Create

Victims of brain trauma say they have insatiable urges to write, draw and paint.

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 6:23 AM

Sept. 9, 2008— -- This is not a sentimental journey into the mind. It is a story about people whose brains were jolted and re-engineered by trauma, leaving them with curious new talents.

A chiropractor, an ex-convict and a neurologist were all linked to the same medical mystery. How could a common occurrence like a stroke unleash an unceasing and uncontrollable outpouring of creativity in two regular people? And what became of the people they used to be?

In Liverpool, England, Tommy McHugh painted. And carved. From wall to wall, from ceiling to carpet, he covered everything in his home after a stroke caused by aneurysms on both sides of his brain.

It was a creative obsession that began a few days after he returned from the hospital. He began talking in rhyme and filling notebook pages with poetry.

"Line after line, all the time it was in rhyme," McHugh said. "Cup of tea, just for me, nice and sweet, just be neat."

Eventually, his then-wife Jan McHugh handed him a sketch pad.

"And he'd filled a page with these little alien heads," she said. "There was hundreds on the page and every one of them had a different expression."

The old Tommy McHugh was no artist or poet. Early in his life, he was wild and hot-tempered. He got in trouble for fighting, theft and heroin addiction.

When he suffered a stroke at 51, it was as if this man who once had been processed in and out of prisons had now been processed into a new existence and doctors were no help in attempting to explain it.

"It was just awful," Jan McHugh said. "And I was constantly on the phone to people, trying to get help. Or an understanding of what was going on. I thought he was ... going insane."

Tommy McHugh was convinced that he had two brains and he confronted his wife by claiming to be Vincent Van Gogh.

"At this point I was getting really scared," she said. "And he said, 'You just don't know me at all.' And I thought, well, I don't. I don't know you at all, really."

The pair eventually divorced, but remain friends.

"I wasn't the person they were telling me who I was," McHugh said. "I wasn't the Tommy McHugh they knew."