The ALS Association

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A Purpose-Driven Life: Southern California Artist Won’t Let ALS Define Her

February 4, 2014

Chula Vista-based artist Inez Coffman is one of two extraordinary individuals being honored at The ALS Association’s “Heroes Living with ALS Luncheon” in San Diego, Calif., on Friday, February 7. Coffman, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2004, says she refuses to allow the disease to slow her down.

Surfing USA – Foam surfboards Inez Coffman created feature image of Lou Gehrig. Image courtesy of The ALS Association Greater San Diego Chapter

“ALS really hasn’t stopped me from doing the things I love to do,” Coffman asserts. “I won’t let it. I fight it.”

Coffman fights the disease with additional help from The Association’s Greater San Diego Chapter, where she serves as an inspiration to staff and those in her community.

“Inez is an outstanding choice as an honoree,” says Greater San Diego Chapter Executive Director Tom Courtney. “Many people look at her and marvel at her courageous fighting spirit, yet she merely sees it as her fulfilling herself and her leading a purpose-driven life.”

Each December, Coffman and her husband Walter host a luncheon for chapter employees and others living with the disease. The Coffmans decorate their house in various themes. Last year, she transformed her abode into Disneyland. Coffman also works with the chapter by attending patient support groups, where she offers advice to others with ALS. Lastly, she participates in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS® event in San Diego. Her Walk team “Step Up with Inez” has raised more than $67,000 in the last nine years for local care services programs and ALS research.

Coffman, 67, works as resident artist at Walter N. Coffman Foam Shapes (WNC), where she creates intricate foam art displays, called relief art, in the shapes of animals and historic sites such as Iwo Jima. There, she met her husband, Walter, who owns and operates the firm, in 1984. She first experienced ALS symptoms in 1996, even though she was diagnosed a decade ago. “I kept going to different doctors who told me I was fine,” she says. “I kept feeling something was in my body controlling me. I saw pulses in my arms, hands and legs.” Coffman also lacked the strength to hang her skirts and noticed that paint brushes fell out of her hands while she was painting local businesses’ windows during the December holiday season.

ALS has affected Coffman’s speech and makes her walk “crooked,” but she admits to still wearing high heels. Although the disease can tire her, Coffman prefers to remain independent, even though her spouse sometimes helps her get dressed or take a shower.

“I like to do everything myself,” she states. “I don’t like people to help me. I still put my makeup on.”

The need for independence definitely applies to Coffman’s work life, which she describes as “fun.”

“I still paint, but it takes me twice as long because I have to use two hands instead of one,” Coffman admits. Her left hand helps to guide her right one when she designs murals for WNC as well as art deco creations and work using acrylic or oil.

Two of her designs – red and white foam surfboards with Lou Gehrig’s image and the chapter’s logo – will be on display at the “Heroes Living with ALS” Luncheon. The piece will help to welcome attendees to sunny San Diego and more importantly, showcase her talent and tenacity.

“Inez represents courage, openness and good faith,” Courtney adds. “She gets out of bed every day fighting this disease.”

Read the press release.

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