Christina’s World: A Picture of Beauty and Science
By Joanie S. Holm, RN CNP
The famous American artist, Andrew Wyeth, graced the world with many works of art. One of his most famous, Christina’s World, is at home in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This painting portrays a woman in a field of tall grass at the bottom of a hill below a dilapidated farm. On close inspection, it is noted that the women has rail thin arms and hands that seem to claw the ground.
The woman is Christina Olson, a friend and neighbor of Wyeth’s in Maine. Christina was an extremely independent woman who suffered from a progressive neuromuscular disorder thought to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (or CMT). Her ability to walk as a toddler slowly diminished as she aged. She refused to use a wheelchair or walker, preferring to use her arms for crawling.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affecting approximately 1 in 2,500 people in the United States. The disease is named for the three physicians who first identified it in 1886: Jean-Martin Charcot and Pierre Marie in Paris, France, and Howard Henry Tooth in Cambridge, England. CMT comprises a group of disorders that affect peripheral nerves, those that lie outside of the brain and spinal cord. CMT is caused by a gene mutation that affects the covering of the nerves. There is no cure and treatment is aimed at symptomatic care.
Upon learning of the story behind the famous and beautiful Andrew Wyeth painting, I enjoy it at a different level. Andrew Wyeth got to know the soul inside the women who had physical struggles in this life. I’m grateful to him for giving this to the world.
I’m also grateful for Drs. Charcot, Marie, Tooth and all of the other scientist who helped and continue to put the puzzle pieces together for those who suffer with neurodegenerative diseases. Their work may not be lauded as masterpieces and displayed in the museums of the world, but their contribution to society should not be overlooked.
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