Jessie LaVon makes the best of a difficult life

Published 7:57 pm Monday, February 15, 2010

Many people have hardships and difficulties put upon them throughout their lives. It is how they deal with these difficulties — not the difficulties themselves — that makes these people special.

Jessie LaVon is one of those people. She was born with a disease called AVM Class 3.

AVM, or arterio-venous malformation, is an abnormal connection between veins and arteries, and is usually congenital. It affects the central nervous system, causing areas around the capillaries to be deprived of the capillaries’ functions, including removal of carbon dioxide and delivery of nutrients to the cells.

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“Only 1 percent of the people in the world have it,” LaVon said. “It’s a disease that very few people hear about. People with Class 1 and Class 2 can go on to live a normal life. People with Class 3 usually do not survive it.”

When she was pregnant with her youngest child 20 years ago, the doctors decided to take her off of life support.

“When they took me off of life support, it was for me to die,” LaVon said. “I was pregnant at the time, but the child survived; they took her prematurely. I woke up, and they wanted to put me in an institution, but my mother said, ‘No.’ She brought me home and took care of me, and by the grace of God, I did survive.

“It took me 10 years to learn how to eat, to dress myself, how to walk, how to talk, how to read – to do everything – all over again.”

She has undergone 22 different procedures, including kidney removal, three back operations, three stomach operations, a broken leg with metal rod replacements and nine arteriograms — one of which made her temporarily blind and another caused her to have a small stroke.

She has had brain surgeries, having shunts put in her head and having one-fourth of the left side of her brain removed, along with part of her medulla oblongata.

Despite this, she has raised four children. She is an accomplished painter, having shown her work with Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell at the Huntsville Museum.

“I’ve shown with Woody Long, Lonnie Holly and Charlie Lucas,” she said. “My work is all over the United States. The style I have is folk art — self-taught folk art. I created the style.”

Having grown up on a farm in Greene County, she is also able to can vegetables, make homemade butter, make any kind of candy and companion gardening that has been handed down over six generations, just to name a few.

“I grew up as a sharecropper’s daughter, so I do paintings of the stories of how we grew up,” LaVon said. “Most of it tells the stories like the Crossroads, making moonshine, Saturday afternoons with the radio, things like that.

“I retired from the art world after Mama died in my arms. I don’t do the circuit any more. I used to do Kentuck and all such as that. I have an agent in Gadsden who sells for me. I think, now that the children are gone, (the painting) is done more or less for myself.”

She has four children: her son, B.J. Pittman, who served in the military before being wounded, and three daughters, Dusty, Amber and Sissy. She lost six children due to AVM.

She loves gardening and walking, and used to enjoy canoeing and rock climbing before she had to have brain surgery.

“Since the kidney surgery, I’ve had to slow down some,” she said.

In many ways, life is a challenge for Jessie LaVon, but in many more ways, she has faced its challenges, met them and succeeded in life. She fought back death 20 years ago and continues to truly live more and more each day.