'A message from Superman brought me back to life'

·5-min read
Bazza and family
Bazza and his family. He and Loraine married in 2016. (Collect, Bazza West)

Watching artist Bazza West work on his latest painting – a Christmas card for the ITV show This Morning – is astonishing. The picture is a cheerful robin wearing a Santa hat and sitting on a tree branch. The design and the colours are stunning and Bazza is adding that last level of tiny detail – some delicate gold leaf.

It’s mesmerising to see such a talented creative at work but there is something even more extraordinary about 45-year-old Bazza. Paralysed from the neck down, he can only move the brush with his mouth,"Some people see my paintings and can’t believe they’re actually done by mouth," says Bazza. "But I want to show people what is possible. I’m one of 29 artists in the UK who work for Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) and one of 800 in the world in 80 different countries.

Watch: Mouth painting artist Bazza West

"It’s grown in numbers since it was set up in 1957 and it’s crazy to think that someone back then had the drive for people like me to be recognised by my ability."

Bazza was an active young man of only 19 with his own gardening business when he skidded across the road in his car on his way to work and slammed straight into a tree. Police thought he had swerved to avoid a badger.

Read more: UK man with no movement in his arms and legs can paint and make cup of tea using his MOUTH

"Afterwards, I remember waking up in hospital and my first thought was: ‘Oh no, I’m late for work.' Little did I know I was a few months late, because I’d been in a coma," says Bazza.

"My head was in traction, I was on life support and the doctors had closed off my voice box and so I couldn’t speak. I remember trying to tell my mum to phone my boss and tell him I was going to be late. I didn’t understand what had happened.

Bazza on his wedding day
Bazza and Loraine are proud parents to Harrison, 5. (Collect, Bazza West)

"I remember there were mirrors above my bed angled in different ways so I could see across the room and I saw a man in a chair with someone holding a phone up for him.

"I asked my mum why he needed help and she said that the man was paralysed and he couldn’t use his arms or legs. I remember saying: ‘Poor b*****’, never realising I was in the same position."

When Bazza finally discovered that he’d broken his neck and damaged both the cord and bone and was completely paralysed from neck down, he spiralled into shock and despair.

Read more: Young woman's positive take on becoming paralyzed: a 'rebirth' and 'evolution'

"I thought, 'why me? What have I done to deserve this?' Surely you can’t have an accident and stop being able to use your arms and legs?

"It was a year after the actor Christopher Reeve had broken his neck while horse-riding, so I asked someone to help me write to him. I said: 'I’ve had an accident like yours. I’m just a kid and you’re Superman. What can you say to inspire me please?'

Christopher Reeve returns for Superman II (Warner Brothers).
To Bazza's amazement, Christopher Reeve wrote back. (Warner Brothers).

"To my amazement, he replied. He said: 'Make small goals every day, no matter how small the goals are, even if it’s just getting out of bed five minutes early.'"

Despite many moments in those early days where he thought his life was over, Reeves’ words helped Bazza through that dark time. Sadly Reeve lost his life in 2004 but Bazza has gone on to live a rich and fulfilling life.

He married wife Loraine in 2016 and the couple live with their three children – Kimberley, 17 and Lily, 14 (by Loraine’s first marriage) and their son Harrison, five in East Sussex. Bazza is not only a successful artist but an active member and leader for the Back Up Trust charity.

baz painting
Bazza is a successful mouth artist - seen here working on his Chrustmas card. (Collect, Bazza West)

"I got in touch with them in 2007 and they support people with spinal injuries to go on activity courses," he says. "I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything but they kept badgering me to go on a taster weekend and it was incredible.

"I’ve been on zip wires, kayaks, skydives, I’ve climbed mountains and gone scuba diving in places like Egypt and Barbados. I now lead some of the activities. It goes back to that thing of having ‘small goals’.

"I still have them today. One of my goals is to have a Christmas card design in one of the MFPA packs. I still want to achieve and I want to do my best.

Bazza
Bazza paints a festive scene. (Collect, Bazza West)

"It’s a part of my life now – it’s ingrained in me to want to show other people what is possible, even with an injury like this. For a long time, I thought my life was over. I was on anti-depressants and I never thought I’d never experience a life like this.

"But I’m married, I have kids and a career I love – I want to show what you can do with just the use of your head and a lot of motivation."

For more of Bazza’s work, see MFP

Watch: Tarpon Springs mouth artist illustrates children's book to teach kids about disability

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