SALEM, Ore. -- Watching games of peek-a-boo and his easy toothy smile, you would never guess that just a year ago, Ocean Sandvig was close to death.

But his mom, April, remembers. “Within a week he was almost gone,” she said.

After months of subtle changes in his sleep and energy level, Ocean got sick a week before his third birthday. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Saving his life required extreme measures, and somewhere between the trauma, the complications and the twelve pokes a day, Ocean’s brain misplaced his ability to speak.

“He stopped talking,” said his mom, April. “He still did his chattering but I didn’t hear any words.”

Losing his budding ability to communicate made dealing with the diabetes even harder. In an effort to distract him and keep him calm, April and dad Scott brought out the craft paints and a canvas.

“Then we realized, wow this is something that he really likes,” said April. “It’s a way that he can express himself and they are really amazing.”

One of Ocean's paintings.

The walls are lined with his intriguing abstracts created with toddler techniques. Sometimes he lets the paint run, sometimes it’s more of a splat. He uses brushes and fingers, and even toy trains to create the colorful textures and designs. It is entirely up to him, which is the whole point.

“That’s what I think makes it so therapeutic,” said April. “His life is so controlled. I control what he eats, when he eats, when he gets his shots, I control everything.”

Except his painting. “There’s that freedom. He can express whatever he needs to and it shows in the painting.

In fact, his work is so good people have asked to buy it. After some soul searching, April and her husband Scott decided to sell some of his originals and plenty of prints. They would give half of the profits to juvenile diabetes research and save the other half to buy Ocean a diabetes alert dog.

Learn more at the family's website

“The dog would give him more freedom and us more peace of mind,” explained April. Something that has been in short supply for this young family determined to celebrate their son and his unexpected gift.