Although you may be unfamiliar with the name Paul Demeyer, if you’ve watched Rugrats in Paris or the Miles From Tomorrowland series as a kid or with your children, you’ve seen his work in action. Spending his career crafting animated characters and storylines, it seems only fitting that Paul would eventually bring his own story to life in illustrated form, culminating in the most personal piece of his impressive career.
After becoming a bilateral amputee in his 60s due to diabetes complications, Paul has found beauty in his new reality through meditation, his wife’s support, and the inspirational stories of other courageous amputees.
Growing up in Bruges, Belgium, Paul received the news that no 10-year-old wants to hear: He had Type 1 diabetes. Despite this diagnosis, Paul resolutely set his sights on a career in animation, studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Ghent and the world-renowned CalArts in Santa Clarita, California. It was while working for an animation studio in London that Paul developed diabetic retinopathy in his late 30s, a complication threatening his sight and his livelihood.
“The prognosis was blindness, so I went to my hospital in Belgium and they referred me to a surgeon in Antwerp who did vitrectomies,” Paul said. He underwent the procedure in the hopes of saving his vision. Although he has lost most of his sight in the left eye, Paul can still read–and draw–with strong glasses.
Marking a transition in his career, Paul pivoted to the role of director, making animated shorts, commercials, TV shows, and films around the world. However, in 2017, more complications arose, with Paul experiencing fever and night sweats of unknown origin.
“I told my oncologist I was experiencing pain in my calf, so he referred me to a vascular specialist,” he explained. “They immediately knew what was wrong and identified the problem–lack of blood circulation to the feet.” After failed attempts to increase circulation, the difficult decision was made to amputate the right foot and, soon after, both.
It was during his amputation journey that Paul began a therapeutic sketchbook as an artistic outlet to chronicle his home recovery.
“I can’t draw very accurately since I have very reduced peripheral vision, so I draw on paper because it feels more natural to me than doing it on the computer,” he said. “Then I scan the pages into Photoshop so I can straighten the sketches and words which go up on the page.”
Complete with honest reflections about the life and challenges of a new amputee, the sketchbook would serve as a springboard for his upcoming memoir, Walking On Clouds: Losing Sight, Feet and Loved Ones but Never Losing the Lightness of Being.
Still vibrant at 70 years old, Paul has made meditation a regular practice for over 45 years and credits it for helping him process his new way of life and gain perspective.
“I used to love hiking, and when I lost my feet that was one of the things I thought about: ‘Man, I’m not going to be able to go hiking in the mountains anymore,’” Paul shared. “I still can’t, even with my prosthesis, because of the lack of strong blood circulation in my limbs, but I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the beauty that is in front of me. It has to do with your consciousness, to look for the beauty around you and for the good in your life. It’s so important rather than focusing on that which limits you.”
Attending his first Amputee Coalition National Conference in 2022, Paul was amazed to see so many embracing this same spirit and left feeling most inspired by watching and hearing stories of what other amputees were doing. “Someone told me about a person who golfs with one arm, and I thought, ‘Man, isn’t that inspiring?’” Paul said with a smile. “We can inspire others without even knowing it; my wife even told me about one of her hospice patients I inspired to start walking with a prosthesis just by sharing my story with him.”
Doodling with the ease of expertise, his thick black glasses fixed upon his sketchbook, it would be difficult to imagine all that Paul has overcome to continue doing what he loves. “There are some things in life that you can’t change, then you must surrender to the situation,” he stated simply. Choosing to make the most of his circumstances, there is no doubt Paul will continue to inspire countless others and help them find the strength to get up and do the same.
To learn more about Paul Demeyer and view his upcoming memoir and other works, please visit his website at www.pauldemeyer.com.