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For the Love of Tattooing, The Transformative Tattoo: The Warechowski's

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For the Love of Tattooing, The Transformative Tattoo: The Warechowski's

Sean Herman

Here's the fifth story in our series "For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo", that we are presenting with our good friends over at openoureyes.org. To learn more about this series, check out our introduction blog here.  We hope you enjoy!.

Sean Herman


Most of the time in my career, I am tattooing the same people, over and over again, for years.  There are some people that I have been tattooing for over a decade, watching their lives grow and flourish.  Marriages, births, and deaths all occur in these times, and I get to experience that with them.  I started tattooing Mike and Katie Warechowski almost a decade ago.  I celebrated with them as their business grew, and as their family grew when Katie became pregnant.  I was so excited to hear the stories after his birth, and to get the opportunity to meet this incredible kid.  With every appointment they shared stories about Mikey’s milestones, about how he could count to twenty, and how much he loved his stuffed animals and insisted on bringing them everywhere.  At one appointment they mentioned that through this, he was still having some issues walking, and they were going to different doctors to get tests done.  The next appointment I learned of Mikey’s diagnosis of late infantile onset MLD, or Metachromatic Leukodystrophy.  

Mike, Michael, and Katie Warechowski

Mike, Michael, and Katie Warechowski

Katie:

“Most people get a lifetime with their children. Not us. Not any of the parents of late infantile onset MLD children. Metachromatic Leukodystrophy is quite severe, progressive and fatal. Most children live to age 5, some to age 10. This disease causes it's sufferers to require constant care as their brains and nerves begin to deteriorate, losing the ability to sit up, crawl, eat, see, hear and eventually, breathe. The only treatment for this disorder is a bone marrow, stem cell or cord blood transplant. Unfortunately, transplant is not generally recommended for late infantile onset of MLD so the we have decided not to put Michael through transplant but rather, to keep him at home where he is happy and we can share him with everyone who loves him.

Michael at Halloween

Michael at Halloween

Michael is one of the sweetest little boys you will ever meet – everyone who meets him agrees. Before he got sick, those who are closest to him would tell you that he is more snuggly and affectionate than any child you’ve ever met. Michael was a perfectly healthy, normal baby for most of his life. He reached most of his milestones right on target – rolled over at 4 months, sat up at 6 months, crawled at 8 months and began talking at 10 months. In fact, his speech seemed to be above average as he was saying sentences as early as 16 months. He learned his colors and shapes around 18 months.”

 When Michael finally decided to stand up and try to walk, Katie and Mike noticed that his feet looked a little funny so they began with a series of doctor’s appointments including the Chiropractor, Pediatrician, Orthopedist and finally, Neurologist. The neurologist ordered an MRI and when they found something questionable in his brain, they ordered some blood work." 

She continues, 

“Our worst nightmare came true when they received the results from the blood tests.  On Tuesday March 27th, (Katie’s birthday) 2012, we found out Michael’s diagnosis – M….L….D”

Instead of their story ending there though, that is where it began.  In these situations we immediately think, “I’m praying for you, oh those poor people”, which is not the case at all with the Warechowski’s.  As our appointments continued, their tattoos began to change and reflect the center of their lives, their young son Mikey.  I would talk to them for hours upon hours, and it became very obvious that it wasn’t “poor them” but instead it was about how wonderful their lives were.  Instead of wallowing in the thoughts of “why us, why our family?” they were valuing and appreciating every single minute that they have been able to have with this wonderful little boy, with their living son.  Their priority became making sure that Mikey knew he was loved, and that they love spending every second with him.  Through these conversations I began to reflect on my own life and decisions, and realized the life I was throwing away to doubt and I began to wonder, “Am I missing something?  Do I value my gift of the present?”

Mike, Michael, and Katie enjoying a day out.

Mike, Michael, and Katie enjoying a day out.

Tattooing is amazing because one can get a tattoo for a specific reason, and that reason and meaning can change over time to cause a tattoo to be far more important and close to someone years after it was applied.  Tattooing becomes something that is more about the tattoo being its own entity, changing with the wearer over time.  Mike Warechowski has a piece that I tattooed on his stomach that became far more important after it was applied.  Mike says, 

“Initially, I just wanted something to fill up the space and I suggested a skull and dagger."

A skull and dagger piece I tattooed on Mike

A skull and dagger piece I tattooed on Mike

"About halfway through the tattoo our son was diagnosed with a rare and terminal genetic disorder. I immediately emailed Sean and asked him to put a little IV at the top of the dagger to honor my son (He is Michael the 4th) Suddenly this cool "filler piece" became a way for me to face these problems that were coming and to stay strong for my son. Every time I look into the mirror I see this tattoo and it reminds me to stay strong and to approach each day aggressively. In a way, the skull could symbolize the disease or the pain that we are going through and the dagger symbolizes my son and our family and how we've handled this experience.”


“…it reminds me to stay strong and to approach each day aggressively.”

 

Mike's left forearm that I tattooed.  It's a T-rex (Michael's favorite) coming out of Micheal's baby blanket.  The T-rex is chasing a purple butterfly (a symbol for MLD), showing Michael aggressively fighting the disease and being strong.

Mike's left forearm that I tattooed.  It's a T-rex (Michael's favorite) coming out of Micheal's baby blanket.  The T-rex is chasing a purple butterfly (a symbol for MLD), showing Michael aggressively fighting the disease and being strong.

No longer is the tattooing process about the tattooer expressing an art, but instead the art becomes it’s own being, creating meaning that carries much more strength than the tattooist could have initially thought.  When Mike and I spoke about this piece, and his recent work, it really started to fall together how much meaning for the pieces tied back to his son Mikey.  When your life is immersed in what you love, you can’t help but to reflect that love in the meaning for the amulets your wear.  Their love is for the present they live in, and they wear it as a reminder.  Katie explains this more, opening up about the life they live, and the time they cherish.

Michael's right forearm that I tattooed.  We started with a portrait of Michael smiling, along with three peas in a pod signifying their family.  The cow jumping over the moon and the street light were both from Michael's favorite children's book.

Michael's right forearm that I tattooed.  We started with a portrait of Michael smiling, along with three peas in a pod signifying their family.  The cow jumping over the moon and the street light were both from Michael's favorite children's book.

Katie:

“I got my first tattoo when I was 18 years old (I'm 35 now) and I didn't realize at the time how a simple design could come to mean so much. I chose a 6 pointed star and had it placed on my upper back. The 6 points represented my family - my parents and 3 siblings. It didn't have much meaning beyond that. But now that I am older and wiser, those 6 points mean so much more. They represent a deep family bond of love, loss, strength, change... That's the thing about tattoos - they change meaning as you grow and change. I get a lot of questions about my tattoos but one common one is, "what does it mean?"  Tattoos don't have to mean anything and often times when you get them, they don't and people often don't understand that - they think that it has to mean something but for many, it is a way of collecting artwork.  People collect all different forms of artwork from paintings to taxidermy...sculptures to tattoos.  I have a pin up girl on my calf and when I got that it was just a piece of art that fit nicely on that part of my body. My next tattoo was a skull and dagger on the same calf. Again, it was a beautiful piece of art that I wanted to see on my body forever. I finished my calf several years ago with a tattoo of 3 swallows. 

Back in 2012, my son was diagnosed at the age of 2 with a horrific, degenerative and fatal disease. We found out on my birthday 4 years ago that our only son would die a child. It is life events like these that cannot only change your complete outlook on life but can also change the meaning of your tattoo. My calf went from being a beautiful piece of art to signifying love, family, death and beauty. In December of 2012, about 9 months after learning of our son's disease I started my arm sleeve. This tattoo had meaning right off the bat. The first part of the sleeve, a purple butterfly, is the symbol for MLD, Michael's disease. We added a chickadee in the moonlight, a tree with twisting branches, a daisy, some sweet peas, a bumble bee and most importantly, the phrase "It's a Beautiful Day." Each part of the sleeve has different meaning but as the years have passed since Michael's diagnosis it has come to mean so much more." 

"It means: "I LOVE MY LIFE." 

I don't want people to feel sorry for us. I don't want people to wish for a miracle for Michael; for him to be miraculously cured. Don't misunderstand me, if Michael woke up one day and was not sick anymore, I'd be grateful. Do I wish that he didn't have to feel pain? Of course.  Do we have really rough days that leave us in tears?  Yes, but I'm not going to sit here and wish for him to be anyone or anything other than who he is. He is beautiful. He is perfect. He is strong and he is ours. I love my life. I get to spend all day with my child holding him, loving and kissing on him. I don't have to worry for his safety or what kind of trouble he may get in one day. I get to take care of the most perfect little human and I love it. Yes, I love giving him his meds, providing all of his medical care, massaging his tight and frail little arms and legs. We play in our own way. We have fun. My life is no harder than yours; it's just different and I LOVE MY LIFE. "

 

The most recent piece we have been working on for Katie.

The most recent piece we have been working on for Katie.

"So yes, tattoos change meaning over time. The tattoo we're working on right now is a vision of where I see Michael and I ending up when we are both gone. My version of Heaven. I'm not a religious person but I do believe Michael and I will be together again one day. I know what this tattoo means right now but I am excited and anxious to see how this it's meaning changes in the years to come. “ 


Katie, Michael, and Mike Warechowski

Katie, Michael, and Mike Warechowski

The Warechowski family forever changed my life, and I am so fortunate to get that opportunity.  I am grateful because I can see how useless worrying about an uncertain future is, instead I will cherish the present that is before me.  On those nights that I come home, worn from the long day of work, my mind filled with the thoughts of what needs to get done, I will find my daughter waiting for me at the front door.  As the door closes behind me she looks up at me, eyes huge with wonder, a smile from ear to ear, and she says the same thing, “Daddy, come play with me.”  With the thoughts of the Warechowski’s and embracing the love we have in the present, I set everything down and immediately get on the floor to build a lego castle with her, and laugh with her as she admires it and then throws it in the air to watch it shatter on the ground.  As the pieces fly, I can see the wonder and joy in her eyes.  This moment, this present I live in, is the greatest thing I could have dreamed of.  I am indebted to the Warechowski family for teaching me that, and I am honored to get to tattoo them and watch true appreciation and growth.

Katie, Michael, and Mike Warechowski

Katie, Michael, and Mike Warechowski

The Warechowski's medical bills are outrageous as they do not qualify for Medicaid. You can help this family by making a donation directly with your bank account via PayPal by clicking the link: https://www.paypal.com/home

* Please follow the instructions below to make the process as easy as possible:

-Click on “Send Money” (the third option on the horizontal navigation bar at the top of the page under the “Home” tab”)
You must click “My payment is for Friends and Family” so we can bypass any credit card processing fees normally charged to businesses for online sales

-You can pay with your credit/debit card but it will charge you a small processing fee based on the amount you donate. Or, you can pay directly with your bank account and you will not be charged a processing fee, but you will have to create a PayPal account and enter your bank account number and routing number and the process is a little longer

-Enter warkatie327@gmail.com in the To: {Email Address} field and follow the rest of the instructions on the screen

For more information on Mikey, updates, and how you can help, check out theirFacebook page for updates and to follow their story: 

https://www.facebook.com/Mikeys-Mission-1386542568341019/


SEAN HERMAN

SEAN HERMAN IS A FATHER, TATTOOER, WRITER AND CREATOR.  BORN MOVING, HE WAS INVOLVED IN ALL KIND OF MOVEMENTS FROM MISSIONARY WORK IN YOUTH,  TO PUNK ROCK TO ANARCHISM, THESE ELEMENTS ARE WHAT SHAPED HIM TO BE WHO HE IS TODAY, ALL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, AND ALL THE SAME.  THE ONE THING THAT WAS ALWAYS A CONSTANT WAS POSITIVITY AND THE ART OF CREATION.  LEARN MORE AT WWW.SEANHERMAN.COM.