He has always drawn. For a time, his drawings filled in crucial visual details for the makers of video games, comic books, movies and card games. You may have dreamed the worlds of his drawings without knowing where they came from.
It was one of the first things about Francis that struck his wife, Linda, when they met. "First was his incredible artistic ability," she says. "He could just draw circles around everybody else" when they studied architecture together at the
When he was diagnosed in 2010 at the age of 42 with the disease, it was already weakening his arms. A short time later, when he could no longer draw with his hands, Francis Tsai used his big toe and the touch screen of an iPhone to create new artwork. What he drew was cruder than the art he was known for, but by any measure, it was remarkable. The color theory was there, the otherwordly characters, the sense of an eye staring at a clearly defined vision.
The disease next stole the movement in his legs and feet.
For a while, Francis Tsai was not drawing.
But with patience, help from loved ones and a first-of-its-kind technological assist, he found a way to adapt, to survive and to prevail.
Francis sits in the power chair in the living room of his
On a wheeled stand next to his chair, a ventilator machine rasps every three to five seconds, breathing for Francis through a tracheostomy tube ("trach" for short).
Francis is lean, his thin arms and legs and the back of his shaved head cushioned by small, bright orange towels. His caregiver, a small, strong woman from
The 17-year-old family cat, Lolita, hops up and finds her spot on Francis' lap.
Schwarz helps adjust his head when necessary. At this point, Francis can mouth words, but he has no voice, and facial expressions are the only voluntary movement he has left. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known to some as "
Francis stares through his rectangular wire-frame glasses at a small tablet screen mounted to his power chair a few feet in front of him. At first, it looks as if his mind is being read. A keyboard appears on the screen and as letters form, words are offered, anticipating what Francis wants to say, not unlike predictive typing software you'd find on a smartphone. Francis forms sentences, but not through brainwaves (though, futurists will tell you, that's just around the bend).
Two infrared cameras track the subtle movement of his eyes. The technique, called "Eye Gaze" technology, paired with Windows software, allows Francis to communicate with those around him. He can command the software to speak what he's saying out loud. Francis can ask Schwarz for help with saliva suction or request movement, but he can also have a normal conversation.
"Typing is hella slow so cracking jokes is a lot harder!" Francis types with his eyes.
Most Popular Stories
- Boehner Lashes Out Against Ted Cruz, Far Right
- TFA Recruiting DACA Recipients
- Hawaii Official Who Release Obama Certificate Only Victim of Plane Crash
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Ford Plans New Cars, Jobs in 2014
- Gold, Silver Slide on Prospects of Fed Exit
- 'Rape Insurance' Bill Passes in Michigan
- Ted Cruz Coloring Book Selling Briskly
- Kim Jong Un's Uncle Executed
- Scotch Whisky Sales Raise Distillers' Spirits