JEFF HANSON, 17
Overland Park, Kans.
Five years ago Jeff Hanson fought the fight of his life. Battling neurofibromatosis, a genetic disease that threatened to leave him blind, Hanson, then 12, underwent five months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. To lift his spirits, he began painting watercolors on note cards and selling them from a card table in his driveway. Much to his surprise, Hanson's work proved to be a huge hit, bringing in $13,000 over three months. "I didn't want anything for myself," recalls Hanson, the only child of a physician and a homemaker, "so why not give it away to charity?"
That was just the beginning. Since 2006, the sight-impaired teen has donated $350,000 from the sale of his paintings to 50 charities, most of them devoted to children's health. His colorful acrylic artwork-created with spatulas and putty knives and selling for as much as $6,000 each-has been snapped up by art lovers worldwide, including Elton John. "Jeff's paintings capture his spirit," says art collector Beryl Raff. "They come alive." Says George Orfanakos, head of the Children's Tumor Foundation: "Jeff sees more clearly than many of us, despite his challenges." Next up, the high school senior hopes to raise $1 million for charity. "I feel," he says, "like this is my chance to make a difference."
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