Edmonds artist gets helping hand from new device; medical trial starts in January

Whitney Buckingham-Beechie at work. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Edmonds artist Whitney Buckingham-Beechie, featured artist in this Thursday’s Art Walk Edmonds, is a sculptor as well as a painter who works in mixed media – wax with indigo dye. “Indigo is alive,” she said, “so it’s unpredictable.”

What she didn’t fully appreciate was the unpredictability of creating art with mild hand tremors. “I’ve had this condition for a very long time. It’s been mild but gets worse with caffeine,” she said. “My mom has Parkinson’s Disease and she was concerned for me. But I put off going to see anyone about it. Then my daughter said to me, ‘I’d go to the doctor if you asked me to.’ I thought, fair enough. So I went to EvergreenHealth and learned I have Essential Tremor, or ET.”

ET is a movement disorder that affects more than 7 million Americans, often marked by hand tremors that intensify when patients perform tasks like eating, drinking, making phone calls, writing.

And painting.

Interstellar 2016 board 24 x 24 by Whitney Buckingham-Beechie

Even so, Buckingham-Beechie thought it didn’t affect her work. “The doctor asked me if I modify my art because of the tremor and I said no. I do big and bold work anyway, but after considering it, I thought, son of a gun, I have adapted to it.”

After being diagnosed, Buckingham-Beechie took part in a medical trial at EvergreenHealth, wearing a device on her wrist. It looks something like a fitbit and is worn twice a day for 40 minutes at a time, during which the device sends electrical stimulation to nerves through the skin.

During the study, her tremors vanished.

A second trial on the next generation of the device begins in January. Participants are being recruited and she hopes to be one of them.

“I’d like to see progress on this condition as well as Parkinson’s. ET is completely different than Parkinson’s, but I’d do anything to help and contribute,” she said.

One day, if the device goes on the market, she would use it to pursue other techniques in her art that might benefit from a steady hand.

“It would free me to explore different avenues and utilize more precision,” she said.

And yet, there’s no regret about the path that brought her here. In a way, the familiar, mild tremor is part of her artistic journey. “I would never turn my back on where I am,” she said. “I love what I’m doing.”

To inquire about eligibility for participating in the clinical trial at EvergreenHealth, email EvergreenResearch@evergreenhealth.com or call the research main line at 425-899-5385.

— By Connie McDougall

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