At 17 a Quadriplegic – And Now a World Class Artist!

March 1, 2009 by Michael McCurdy · 2 Comments
Filed under: Health, Public Service, Science, entreprenuer 
Dennis painting

Dennis painting

“When I arrived at the hospital I thought all they were going to do is some chiropractic work. Little did I know I would remain a quadriplegic for life!”, so said Dennis Francesconi, who at 17 years old, flew 31 feet in the air after his waterskiing boat hit sand, and propelled him head-first onto the beach.

In August 1980, Dennis went water skiing for just the seventh time. At 5′10″ and self-described as lean, Dennis enjoyed athletics, specially soccer and baseball. He also tried out for the football team, but his thin frame didn’t enjoy the pounding, nor did he enjoy watching his friend’s wind up with broken legs and arms. “This just ain’t for me,” he said. So when someone suggested water skiing – “it sounded perfect.”

Dennis remembers his Mother’s screams for an ambulance, and his father helping the paramedics load him into an ambulance. He had no pain, and could feel his arms, and wondered why everyone was so concerned. By the time they reached the hospital, feeling from the chest down soon left him. “I honestly thought that a chiropractor would be waiting for me, and adjust everything back into place.”

The diagnosis: A broken neck with the 5th vertabrae literally shattered, and the 4th and 6th dislocated. Dennis has no use of any of his limbs.

For the next 19 years Dennis lived on Social Security Insurance of $600.00 per month and lots of odd jobs: salesman of herbal supplements, real estate salesman to farmers (in an electric wheelchair), and, as he describes it, “I was just grabbing at straws.”

“It was a huge loss” was how Dennis described his life after the accident. “There is no huge settlement. I didn’t get hit by a beer truck!”.

In 1986, on a suggestion from his wife Kristi, Dennis enrolled in a program called “Help Them Walk Again,” which was headquartered in Las Vegas. Exercise programs, electronic stimulation and weight lifting were part of the curriculum, with the hope that someday the scientists may find a cure.

More pushing from Kristi, family and friends led Dennis to enroll in MFPA (Mouth and Foot Painting Artists)

Now approaching its 50th Anniversary, the MFPA enables mouth and foot painters to achieve self-fulfillment through their art. By selling reproductions of their original artwork as greeting cards, calendars and other printed materials, the organization helps the artists achieve
financial independence.

“Didn’t you feel ridiculous with a paint brush in your mouth?”, I asked Dennis. “It was just the opposite! It was the first time in years that I felt in charge! I also started to notice how objects were shaded – the lighting at dusk – the beauty in nature. There were also some amusing discoveries, I could only paint by holding the paint brush on the right side of my mouth.”

The organization’s founder, polio-stricken Erich Stegmann, was an early practitioner of mouth painting and sculpting. His vision was to create a worldwide organization of like-minded artists facing physical disabilities and provide them with the opportunity to achieve financial security.

The original organization was comprised of 16 European artists. Today, it has expanded into 70 countries, including the United States, which is home to more than 60 MFPA artists who paint for pleasure and to make a living. Working under the organization’s motto, “Self help – not charity,” the artists don’t let their disabilities stand in the way of benefiting from their hard work.

There are an estimated 180,000 physically challenged people in the United States who could possibly benefit by becoming aware of MFPA.

“After being on public support for 19 years, I was finally able to come off it and regain my independence as a direct result of joining the MFPA,” said Dennis, an MFPA member who has participated in about 70 exhibitions and is presently working on a rose painting for a wine label – his second to date – at an award-winning California vineyard. “I would do anything this organization asked me to because they returned my life to normalcy.”

Francesconi isn’t alone in his optimism. Many other MFPA members have a similar outlook on life and appreciate the opportunity to share their art with the world.

To purchase greeting cards for all occasions, a beautiful full color annual art calendar, stationery, gift wrap, puzzles, books and more, contact:

Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, Worldwide. — manages/oversees the artists and the publishing houses in approximately 43 countries.

In the USA, the publishing house is: Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Inc., Atlanta, GA. [toll free] 1-877 MFPA-USA [1-877 6372-872]

Dennis Francesconi is 45 years old and lives in Madera, California with his best friend and wife Kristi. To view some breathtaking works of art, visit his website: